Opioid Epidemic Takes Center Stage
Tuesday’s election offered a glimpse into the key issues that could resonate with voters in the 2024 election. While abortion remains a prominent topic, one issue that has not received enough attention is the allocation of opioid settlement money.
Kentucky's Election Showdown
In Kentucky, both the reelected Democratic governor, Andy Beshear, and his Republican challenger, Attorney General Daniel Cameron, were heavily involved in lawsuits against opioid manufacturers, distributors, and sellers. The candidates engaged in a fierce battle, claiming credit for bringing hundreds of millions of dollars to their state to combat the opioid epidemic. While Beshear initiated the lawsuits, Cameron finalized the settlement deals during his tenure.
Differing Views on Allocation
With over 100,000 Americans losing their lives to drug overdoses last year, the billions of dollars in opioid settlement money nationwide could significantly impact the epidemic. However, there is a wide range of opinions on how to allocate these funds. Some advocate for investing in law enforcement efforts to combat drug trafficking, while others stress the importance of treatment and social support for long-term recovery. The individuals most affected by the crisis are primarily concerned with how the money will directly help them and their loved ones, rather than the political debate surrounding it.
Gubernatorial Candidates and Opioid Settlements
The role of opioid settlement money in Beshear's victory is difficult to determine, but it could serve as a blueprint for future gubernatorial candidates. Several candidates running for governor in 2024 have a more definitive claim to these settlements. Notably, North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein and West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, both involved in the opioid settlements nationwide, are seeking the governor's office in their respective states.
Stein's Emphasis on Treatment and Prevention
Stein, a Democrat aiming to succeed Governor Roy Cooper, has established himself as a lead negotiator in the national opioid settlement deals. He highlights the importance of using these funds for addiction treatment and prevention, in contrast to the 1998 tobacco settlement, where less than 3 percent of annual payouts support anti-smoking efforts. Stein has actively engaged with constituents, discussing the allocation of settlement funds, and has been recognized for the transparency in reporting how the money is spent. Securing opioid settlement funds is prominently featured as an accomplishment on his 2024 gubernatorial campaign website.
Morrisey's Record-Setting Settlements
Morrisey, a Republican, took a different approach by opting out of many national deals and focusing on securing larger settlements exclusively for West Virginia. The state is set to receive over $500 million over almost two decades. Morrisey proudly boasts about his record of achieving the "highest per capita settlements in the nation" on his campaign website. He aims to succeed Governor Jim Justice, who switched parties from Democrat to Republican and is now term-limited.
The Widespread Impact of the Epidemic
According to KFF polling, the opioid epidemic's impact extends far beyond the death toll, with 3 in 10 Americans reporting personal addiction or having a loved one affected by opioids. When including alcohol and other drugs, the burden of addiction affects two-thirds of the country. Whether politicians can effectively resonate with voters by highlighting their track records on the settlements remains uncertain. Nevertheless, the topic of opioid settlement money is expected to dominate the campaign trail in the upcoming election year.
Stephen Voss, an associate professor of political science at the University of Kentucky, believes that politicians emphasizing financial gains for their constituents generally receive positive reception. He states, "Scoring money for your constituency almost always plays well… It is a lot more compelling and unifying a political argument than taking a position on something like abortion," which inherently risks alienating certain voters regardless of the stance taken.
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