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Opioid crisis once again is a campaign issue

Most people can tell it is election season by the sudden uptick in campaign advertising and, of course, all the candidate signs popping up in yards and intersections.

I, however, have a different signal. Each spring and fall, our downtown Warren office becomes home to a parade of political candidates coming to meet with a panel of newspaper employees including reporters and members of our editorial board for interviews in which candidates share goals, plans and ideas.

As has been the case over the past few years, again last week some incumbents and challengers discussed the opioid crisis that still grips our communities and our nation.

Law enforcement, social services and treatment all require funding, of course, and a variety of approaches and opinions exist on how to best address this critical and expensive public health crisis. Lawsuits have resulted against the opioid manufacturers, distributors and suppliers, and now many states have either settled for massive amounts or, like Ohio, are on the brink of settlement. Ohio’s then-Attorney General Mike DeWine filed Ohio’s suit against drugmakers and distributors in 2017.

Certainly, when and if a settlement is reached, the next issue to be decided by our elected officeholders will involve dividing any potential settlement among state and local governments, and how those settlements should be earmarked for use. One common thought among all the candidates who have discussed the topic, though, is simply that not one offered any clear idea.

Commissioner Dan Polivka, who is seeking re-election this year, told us during his candidate interview last week that he has thought about how Trumbull County might spend any opioid settlement funds. Still, he was unclear on his ideas because so many variables will come into play, and because he said he likely would have to defer to the county prosecutor to handle the minutiae of legal details that certainly will be included.

Niles Councilman Barry Profato, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for the 63rd District Statehouse seat, listed combating the opioid crisis as among his top goals if he’s elected, but like many candidates and even elected officials, he provided little detail on how to address the issue.

That, of course, is a daunting question with no clear-cut answer.

Prescription and illicit painkillers have been linked to more than 430,000 deaths in the U.S. in the past two decades, and they’ve created financial burdens for families who have lost incomes and governments who have seen public service expenses rise as they’ve tried to deal with the crisis.

And now disagreements will abound as lawsuit settlements near.

The Associated Press reported last week that some lawyers for state and local governments are criticizing a proposed deal with a group of companies led by the nation’s largest drug distributors. A group of top state lawyers in October announced the framework for a deal worth some $48 billion.

Friday, Patrick Morrisey, attorney general in West Virginia, one of the states hit hardest by the opioid crisis, said the $22 billion in cash being offered by distributors and a giant drugmaker “is way too low,” the Associated Press reported.

“When addressing a national public health crisis, a global settlement shouldn’t be about a pure money grab for the states,” Morrisey said. “Monies should be targeted to those who need it most and spent on abatement.”

Lead lawyers for more than 2,500 local governments suing the drug industry say other recent offers are not enough.

Meanwhile, attorneys general from North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Texas who championed the settlement in October said it was better to have a national deal than see money go out piecemeal — while it lasts — through trial judgments.

If plaintiffs’ attorneys can’t even agree, I know we have a long road ahead of us.

Still, elected leaders and candidates must think now about use of potential settlements. This crisis affects every one of their constituents in one way or another.

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