Beshear Announces Legal Firms Assisting AG’s Office in Litigation against ‘Contributors’ to Opioid Crisis

Terry Sebastian or Crystal Staley

502-696-5300

http://ag.ky.gov/

700 Capitol Avenue, Suite 118

FrankfortKY40601

Agreement ensures state tax dollars not used for costs of litigation

FRANKFORT, Ky. (Sept. 22, 2017) – Attorney General Andy Beshear today announced the legal team his office will partner with in the investigation and prospective litigation against drug manufacturers, distributors and retailers where there is evidence that they contributed to the opioid epidemic by illegally marketing, distributing and selling opioids to Kentuckians.

To support this litigation, Beshear in June issued a public request for proposal (RFP) for legal services to assist the Commonwealth in multiple lawsuits and to ensure that Kentucky tax dollars are not used for the costs of litigation.

The RFP criteria, by which bidders were evaluated, included their background and relevant experience, overall cost, technical approach and work schedule. Specific criteria included experience with complex pharmaceutical, health care, Medicaid and consumer protection litigation; the quality and experience of the specific lawyers proposed; and the resources such as document management and investigatory capacity the bidder could provide.

A diverse group of evaluators assessed and scored 17 bids, which included at least 53 firms. The contract was awarded to the highest scoring proposal, which was submitted by the team of Morgan & Morgan; Motley Rice; The Lanier Law Firm; and Ransdell Roach & Royce PLLC.

This team includes three national firms with prominent attorneys, and one Kentucky-based firm, featuring a former Kentucky Supreme Court Justice. Morgan & Morgan and Motley Rice have filed numerous similar opioid cases, and the firms collectively have won billions of dollars from pharmaceutical companies. The Lanier Law Firm has achieved numerous billion-dollar jury verdicts against the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world.

“We look forward to working with this experienced team of local and national attorneys who have the resources and knowledge to help this office secure funds,” Beshear said. “We need the best team to help us repair the harm caused by those who have played a role in Kentucky’s opioid crisis.”

The contract provides that the bidder – and not the Commonwealth – will pay the costs of the litigation. State tax dollars will not pay the attorneys, who will instead receive a share of any verdict or settlement.

Morgan & Morgan, headquartered in Orlando, is among the largest exclusively plaintiff law firms in the world with 40 offices in nine states including five offices in Kentucky. Morgan & Morgan filed the first West Virginia lawsuit against drug wholesalers, including McKesson, on behalf of counties and has filed eight such actions since that time with several more pending.

Motley Rice, headquartered in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, is among the nation’s largest plaintiffs’ firms, securing settlements in significant health, environmental and consumer fraud litigation. During the last several decades, Motley Rice has led or participated in some of the most important consumer protection litigation, both for government and for private class actions.

Mark Lanier and The Lanier Law Firm, with offices in Houston, New York and Los Angeles, has built its reputation from billions of dollars in recovery with settlements against the world’s largest medical device and pharmaceutical companies.

Ransdell Roach & Royse PLLC, headquartered in Lexington, is comprised of three lifelong Kentuckians – Keith Ransdell, John Roach and David Royse. Roach, a former Kentucky Supreme Court Justice and Bevin transition team member, and Royse will spearhead this project for their firm.

“There is not a more professional, committed and capable team than the one assembled for this matter,” said Morgan & Morgan founder John Morgan. “We will use our significant, successful experience and subject matter expertise to deliver a result that both makes the Commonwealth whole and deters future violators from similar conduct moving forward. This is no longer David versus Goliath, but Goliath versus Goliath.”

“The opioid crisis in Kentucky pays no respect to party lines, political ideology or socioeconomic status,” said John Roach and David Royse. “It has blindly ravaged our Commonwealth and its victims come from all walks of life. Ransdell Roach & Royse PLLC, is honored to join forces with a team of top litigators to represent the Commonwealth in bringing accountability to bear for this epidemic.”

Kentucky is one of several states participating in a bipartisan coalition among attorneys general using their investigative tools, including subpoenas for documents and testimony, to address the opioid crisis.

Beshear said Kentucky, like other states, is experiencing personal and economic devastation from the opioid epidemic. According to the CDC, the total economic burden associated with prescription opioid abuse, including the cost of health care, lost productivity, substance abuse treatment and the impact on the criminal justice system in the United States is $78.5 billion a year.

Attorneys general in Ohio, Mississippi, Missouri and West Virginia have recently filed legal actions against drug manufacturers, distributors and retailers and several other states have issued RFPs seeking similar representation.

This agreement for contingency fee legal services is the latest action by Beshear’s office to combat the state’s opioid epidemic.

In August, Beshear launched the Kentucky Opioid Disposal Program, the state’s first initiative to allow Kentuckians to dispose safely of opioid medications at home. That program involves the drug deactivation pouch, Deterra®, which allows Kentuckians to dispose of their unused prescription opioids in a completely safe and environmentally friendly manner.

Beshear this week joined West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey to press health insurance companies to adopt a financial incentive structure for the use of non-opioid pain management techniques when viable for chronic, non-cancer pain. Insurance companies can play an important role in reducing opioid prescriptions and making it easier for patients to access other forms of pain management treatment.

“Nearly 80 percent of heroin users first become addicted through prescription pills,” Beshear said. “If we can reduce opioid prescriptions and use other forms of pain management treatment, we will slow or even reverse the rate of addiction.”

Beshear and Morrisey joined 35 other state attorneys general across the nation in reaching out to health insurance companies.

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Lawmakers hear sobering account of opioid crisis

September 21, 2017

Lawmakers hear sobering account of opioid crisis

FRANKFORT – At one Kentucky hospital, people are actually bringing in heroin and shooting up with patients.

That’s one example of the “very desperate situation” the opioid-abuse crisis has created, Kentucky Chamber of Commerce President Dave Adkisson said while testifying before a panel of state legislators yesterday in the Capitol Annex.

He was among more than 25 people from across the country who testified about the best policies to attack the crisis at a rare six-hour meeting of both the Interim Joint Committee on Health and Welfare and Family Services, and the Medicaid Oversight and Advisory Committee.

“Today is a snapshot,” meeting co-chair Rep. Addia Wuchner, R-Florence, said of the topics on the agenda that included prevention, treatment and criminal justice issues.

Co-chair Rep. Kimberly Poore Moser, R-Taylor Mill, said the point of combining the two committees’ meetings was to show the complexity of the opioid-abuse crisis and need for a coordinated, long-term strategy to tackle it.

“We know that everything we have heard about the opioid use disorder problem, heroin problem, is real to many families and our communities,” she said, “and it cuts across all demographics. It touches everyone. We know it doesn’t matter where you live. Addiction doesn’t care how smart you are, where you went to school or how much money you make.”

Office of Drug Control Policy Executive Director Van Ingram testified that 1,404 Kentuckians died of a drug overdose last year. He said the introduction of the synthetic opiate fentanyl into the heroin supply was largely driving the death rate. In addition, fentanyl has been present in 53 percent of the drug overdoses recorded in Kentucky so far this year.

He said the Kentucky General Assembly passed a number of measures in the last five or six years to address opioid abuse, but it takes time for the full impact of those laws to be seen.

“People do get better,” Ingram said. “People do recover, although for those people on the front lines, it doesn’t seem that way.”

In what he described as a “rare bright spot, there were 70 million fewer dosage units of opioids prescribed last year in Kentucky than in 2011. (That percentage doesn’t include buprenorphine, a semisynthetic opioid that is used to treat opioid addiction.) There are still about 300 million dosage units of opioids being prescribed in Kentucky.

“This whole problem is the overexposure of opioids to our country and state,” Ingram said. “We are reducing that overexposure.”

He said the passage of House Bill 333 earlier this year would further drive down the number of opioids prescribed. It prevents doctors from prescribing more than a three-day supply of opioid painkillers, with some exceptions allowed. It also increased penalties for trafficking in opioids and authorized the state Office of the Inspector General to investigate trends in drug usage and trafficking.

Department for Medicaid Services Medical Director Dr. Gil Liu testified on the impact of opioid abuse disorder on Kentucky’s Medicaid program.

At the beginning of 2014 Kentucky spent about $56 million in Medicaid money on behavioral health and substance abuse treatment, he said. By the end of 2016, Kentucky was spending about $117 million in Medicaid money on those treatments.

Rep. Danny Bentley, R-Russell, asked what percent of people with substance abuse disorder have a behavioral health disorder, outside of the drug issue.

“Well over half of the people,” Liu said.

Adkisson said the impact of the opioid crisis on Kentucky’s health was staggering.

“Less obvious, however, is the toll that is taken on the state’s economic growth and development,” he said. “In Kentucky the opioid crisis has contributed to a low workforce-participation rate.

“At a time when job openings and investment in Kentucky are reaching record highs, we must provide the healthy productive workforce needed to grow the economy.”

Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, D-Louisville, asked how the state could fund the mental health, treatment and prevention programs needed after the governor recently proposed cuts of 17 percent for most state agencies in the current fiscal year to make up for an expected budget shortfall.

Department for Behavioral Health, Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities Medical Director Dr. Allen J. Brenzel said grant money is helping to pay for programs to tackle the opioid crisis.

“The good news … is that resources are coming,” he said. “That is something I don’t often say. We have received funding from the legislature, the governor’s budget and we have received a significant number of grants.”

Kentucky was recently awarded a $10.5 million federal grant to help on programs for opioid overdose victims, pregnant and parenting women, individuals re-entering society upon release from criminal justice settings and adolescents and young adults at risk of addiction.

“Now, what is very critical, is that we use those dollars, and guide those dollars to the most effective evidence-based intervention,” Brenzel said.

Wuchner said the grant money couldn’t come fast enough.

“Opioid addiction is a ravenous beast because its increasing tolerance requires individuals to take higher doses to stave off withdrawal and addiction spiral can happen quickly,” she said. “It fractures families, lives, communities and futures. It fills our headlines daily. It fills our courtrooms, our jails, our hospital ERs, our NICUs (neonatal intensive care unit). It fills our court dockets, and it fills our morgues.”

— END —

Former judge accused of rape, human trafficking indicted on more Kentucky charges

Image result for timothy nolan kentucky

By Karla Ward

kward1@herald-leader.com

Criminal charges continue to pile up for a former judge accused of rape and human trafficking in Northern Kentucky.

Former Campbell County District Judge Timothy Nolan, 70, was indicted by a Campbell County grand jury Thursday on eight additional felony charges. Those included two counts of human trafficking; one count of attempted human trafficking with a minor; one count of third-degree sodomy; one count of rape of a female over 12; two counts of unlawful transaction with a minor under 16 – controlled substance; and one count of unlawful transaction with a minor under 18 – controlled substance.

Nolan, of California, Ky., is accused of crimes involving 22 victims, including eight juveniles, the Kentucky attorney general’s office said in a news release Thursday. The crimes allegedly occurred between 2010 and May of this year.

Prosecutors have accused Nolan, who served as a judge in the 1970s and 1980s, of using drugs, money and threats to coerce women and juveniles to have sex with him.

Thursday’s indictment is the fourth issued against Nolan since May and brings the total charges against him to 28 felony counts and two misdemeanors.

His attorney has suggested that the charges are the result of a political vendetta.

Nolan is being held in the Campbell County Detention Center. His next hearing is scheduled for Oct. 27, and Nolan is scheduled to go to trial on Feb. 27.

Karla Ward: 859-231-3314, @HLpublicsafety

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(KY) “…the state has a good reason to "curtail citizens’ possession of a narcotic, hallucinogenic drug."

Homegrown2017

Kentucky judge dismisses challenge of medical marijuana ban

  • By adam beam, associated press

FRANKFORT, Ky. — Sep 20, 2017, 4:57 PM ET

Kentucky’s ban on medical marijuana has survived an initial test in court, with a judge ruling Wednesday that the state has a good reason to “curtail citizens’ possession of a narcotic, hallucinogenic drug.”

Twenty-nine other states have legalized marijuana in some way, the most common being for medical purposes. While Kentucky lawmakers have embraced hemp — the fibers of the plant that are used to make rope, clothing and other products — and other uses for the cannabis plant, they have failed to consider a number of proposals that would let people use marijuana as medicine.

Frustrated, three people sued the governor and the attorney general earlier this year and asked a judge to throw out the ban because “denying sick people safe medicine” is unjust.

Franklin Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate rejected that argument, ruling the state had good reason to ban the use of marijuana. He also said the state legislature has “discretion to regulate what is harmful to the public health and wellbeing.” He told the plaintiffs their only option was to persuade the state legislature to lift the ban.

“The Bevin Administration applauds Judge Wingate’s decision to follow the law and dismiss this lawsuit,” said Woody Maglinger, a spokesman for Republican Gov. Matt Bevin. “Any change to Kentucky law should go through the legislative process.”

The people who filed the lawsuit could appeal the ruling. Their attorney, Dan Canon, said they have not made a decision yet.

“We respect the court’s decision, but we strongly disagree with it,” Canon wrote in an email to The Associated Press. “Our clients have said all along that they want the government to stop intruding into the relationship between them and their physicians.”

The plaintiffs all say they use marijuana as medicine. Amy Stalker said she used marijuana with a prescription while living in Colorado and Washington state to treat irritable bowel syndrome and bipolar disorder. She said she has struggled to maintain her health since moving to Kentucky to care for her mother.

Danny Belcher says he uses marijuana to treat post-traumatic stress disorder stemming from his service in the Vietnam War. And Dan Seum Jr., son of Republican state Sen. Dan Seum, said he uses marijuana to ease pain from his inoperable spinal problems.

Seum Jr. said doctors prescribed him Oxycontin, an opioid-based painkiller that is highly addictive and had led to a surge of overdose deaths in the state.

“I don’t want to be addicted to those type drugs,” Seum Jr. said. “Although cannabis, it doesn’t take (the pain) away completely; it allows me to function a little more. I can function and still not be addicted.”

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Police used hidden video camera, microchips to track marijuana found at ex-sheriff’s farm

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By Bill Estep

bestep@herald-leader.com

September 18, 2017 11:49 AM

Former Jackson County Sheriff Denny Peyman allegedly supplied marijuana plants to two other men to grow on Peyman’s farm, a state police detective testified Monday.

Peyman was a participant in the state’s experimental effort to develop hemp as a commercial crop for farmers.

Darren Allen, the state police detective, said he suspected that Peyman and the two men allegedly involved with him thought police would think the marijuana was hemp.

Allen testified that state police spotted suspected marijuana plants at Peyman’s farm during aerial surveillance in July. The plants were in a tree line and were surrounded by weeds about 350 yards from the industrial hemp on Peyman’s farm in the southern part of Jackson County, Allen said.

State police sneaked to the plants without Peyman’s knowledge, took samples, mounted hidden cameras near the plants and a nearby parking spot, and put tracking microchips in six of the 61 plants at the site, Allen said.

Police covertly checked the plot on Sept. 5 and found that the marijuana had been harvested. The video showed two men who were allegedly involved with Peyman harvesting the plants the day before, Allen said.

Police got a warrant to search Peyman’s barn and house on Sept. 6 and arrested him after finding suspected marijuana plants. The plants were in a hidden room in his barn, Allen said.

There were 71 plants. It is possible that some of the original 61 split while being harvested, Allen aid.

Allen testified that five of the microchips he had put in the suspected marijuana plants at the back of Peyman’s farm were found in plants in the barn.

Tests showed that the plants had a higher level of the “high”-producing chemical than industrial hemp plants involved in Kentucky’s pilot program are allowed to have, Allen said.

The two men who were allegedly growing the pot on Peyman’s farm, Edward Hoskins and Arthur “Fuzzy” Gibson, told police they understood that Peyman was in danger of losing his farm and wanted to get into the marijuana business to save the farm, Allen said.

Both men said Pyeman supplied them the plants found growing on his farm, and that they were growing the pot for him, Allen testified.

Jackson District Judge Henria Bailey Lewis ruled that there is probable cause to forward Peyman’s case to a grand jury for a possible indictment.

She set a hearing for Nov. 7 for Peyman to answer the indictment if the grand jury charges him.

Peyman is charged with cultivating marijuana and trafficking in steroids. He is free on bond.

Sean Southard, a spokesman for the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, said Peyman left the state’s pilot industrial hemp program after he was arrested.

Bill Estep: 606-678-4655, @billestep1

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Kentucky prosecutors warn against budget cuts during legislative committee meeting

For Immediate Release

September 15, 2017

Kentucky prosecutors warn against budget cuts during legislative committee meeting

FRANKFORT—Kentucky prosecutors today told state lawmakers that they have little to nothing to cut from their budgets.

Governor Matt Bevin requested that most state agencies plan to cut around 17 percent from their current budgets in a letter sent to state officials last week. The cuts are expected to save the state around $350 million, state officials say.  But prosecutors like Kenton County Commonwealth’s Attorney Rob Sanders said the cuts would “not only eliminate (specific programs). They would shut down our offices.”

Commonwealth’s attorney and county attorney office budgets both fall under the Executive branch, which the Governor oversees. 

“We’re talking one in three employees in our office if we implement cuts October 1,” said Sanders. By January, he said possibly 50 percent of his employees would be have to be let go, under the plan. Warren County Commonwealth’s Attorney Chris Cohron said the same scenario would likely play out across the state, with prosecutors in the largest judicial circuits affected the most.

“The bigger jurisdictions are going to bear the brunt of it. Our conservative estimate is the larger officials would have to look at laying off 60 to 70 percent of our total staff. That’s just not doable,” he told the committee.

Cohron said staff cuts would negatively impact the state’s heroin “Rocket Docket”—an efficiency program in place in over 30 of the state’s 57 judicial circuits that puts treatment ahead of incarceration for certain drug offenses. Local jails statewide are on track to save around $50 million by the end of fiscal year 2018 due to the success of the Rocket Docket program, he said.

Staff cuts could also restrict funding for advocacy of elderly, children and domestic violence victims, Cohron said, since criminal prosecution comes first. All non-court personnel, including victim advocates, would “have to be looked at being reduced immediately,” he said, adding that court appearances and timely disposition of cases would also be impacted by reductions.

“There are human costs to this,” he said.

Henderson County Attorney Steven Gold, who is also the president of the Kentucky County Attorneys Association, said the state’s 120 county attorney offices collect child support, serve as a financial watchdog, and advise and assist county governments. They are also a key player all criminal cases in the Commonwealth, he said, “plus mental health, guardianship, child dependency/neglect/abuse, truancy and runaway” cases and more. While Gold said county attorneys “embrace” their work, they need the funding to meet their obligations. Budget reductions would work counter to that, he said.

“If we are to believe that out of the crucible that is court comes justice, we must have good people—well-funded, well-trained people—on both sides to make that justice a result,” he told the panel.

Rep. Jason Petrie, R-Elkton, asked how much of a cut the prosecutorial system could withstand. None, Sanders said.

“How much of a cut we can sustain when we’re talking about budget reduction? Zero. Because…we’re already going to be short on funds. We’re already going to be laying people off,” he said.

Rep. Robert Benvenuti, R-Lexington, said government’s top priority is public protection. He encouraged prosecutors to make that clear when working with lawmakers in coming months.

“Don’t be shy about saying ‘why is the state spending money on this when we don’t have enough law enforcement officers on the street? When we don’t have enough prosecutors?” Benvenuti said.

A report on factors affecting the state Department of Juvenile Justice and an overview of KASPER (the Kentucky All Schedule Prescription Electronic Reporting System) were also presented to the committee.

–END–

Other states allow medical marijuana. Judge asks why Kentucky shouldn’t join them.

Amy Stalker says she had more control over her own health when she lived in Colorado, where marijuana can be legally prescribed as medicine. Stalker now lives in Kentucky, where medical use of marijuana is banned.

By John Cheves

jcheves@herald-leader.com

August 22, 2017 4:55 PM

Frankfort

A Franklin Circuit Court judge on Tuesday asked attorneys for the state why Kentucky should not make medical marijuana available to patients who believe it might help them, given that “we’ve pretty much decriminalized” the drug around much of the nation and even in parts of the state.

Judge Thomas Wingate is considering motions by Gov. Matt Bevin and Attorney General Andy Beshear to dismiss a lawsuit filed in June by three Kentuckians who want the legal right to use marijuana as medicine in the state where they live. Wingate said he expects to hand down a decision on the motion in the near future.

Since 1996, 29 states and the District of Columbia have authorized the medical use of marijuana within their borders. But Kentucky’s General Assembly has rejected several bills to legalize the drug for medicinal purposes.

During Tuesday’s hearing, Wingate noted that attitudes about marijuana have softened. The penalties for marijuana possession vary widely inside the state depending on the attitudes of local law enforcement, he said. Someone might face a $100 fine — if that — in one county but a stiff jail sentence in another, he said.

Wingate asked Taylor Payne, an attorney for Beshear, to justify the state’s absolute ban on marijuana given that his own experience as a judge has shown him many examples of men abusing women while drunk on alcohol, a legal product, but never while high on marijuana.

“So what do you say toward that?” Wingate asked.

“I think that’s an issue for the legislature to address,” Payne replied.

And that was a key point for Bevin and Beshear’s legal teams: The legislature, not a judge, should be the one to decide if Kentucky is ready to loosen its marijuana laws. In every state that has legalized medical marijuana so far, elected lawmakers made that call, not the courts, said Barry Dunn, a lawyer for Bevin.

The Kentucky General Assembly is likely to get another bill on medical marijuana in 2018, Dunn said.

“Let it continue to percolate around there and see what happens,” Dunn said.

Attorneys for the state also said the courts already have decided this issue. They cited a 2000 decision by the Kentucky Supreme Court in a case involving actor Woody Harrelson, who had argued that Kentucky’s marijuana laws were overly broad and should not be used to prevent him from planting hemp seeds in Lee County.

In that case, the Supreme Court found there was “valid public interest in controlling marijuana” and added that “reliance by Harrelson … on great moral issues of the current times is unpersuasive.”

However, the plaintiffs — Dan Seum Jr. and Amy Stalker of Jefferson County and Danny Belcher of Bath County — say they have lobbied the General Assembly to change the law for years without success. (Seum’s father is a Republican state senator.) They claim the state’s cannabis ban violates their rights under the Kentucky Constitution to privacy and to be free of the “absolute and arbitrary power” of the state over their “lives, liberty and property.”

Kentucky violates privacy rights of medical marijuana patients, lawyer says

Dan Canon, a Louisville attorney who represents several people suing to overturn Kentucky’s ban on medical marijuana, says the Kentucky Constitution guarantees a right to privacy and to be free of arbitrary police powers.

jcheves@herald-leader.com

“Our clients have been to the legislature. They’ll continue to go to the legislature,” attorney Candace Curtis told Wingate. “But you’re the only person who can look at the facts of this case and say, ‘Look, this law is arbitrary and it does violate their right to privacy.’”

Smoked or ingested, cannabis has been used as medicine for most of recorded history. It was a legal remedy in the United States as recently as the mid-20th century. In 1970, however, as the war on drugs began, the U.S. government classified marijuana as a Schedule 1 controlled substance, the designation intended for drugs, such as heroin, that are supposed to have a high potential for addiction and no medical value.

In their suit, the plaintiffs explain that they have used marijuana for years to help them with a variety of ailments.

Seum is a school football coach who suffers from back pain. Belcher is a Vietnam War veteran who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, alcoholism and a compression fracture in his spine. And Stalker said she has a long history of health problems due to irritable bowel syndrome and bipolar disorder and the powerful pharmaceutical drugs that were prescribed to her to treat those conditions.

Stalker briefly lived in Colorado, where medical marijuana is legal, and had a valid prescription for it there. But she returned to Kentucky to care for her mother.

John Cheves: 859-231-3266, @BGPolitics

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