W.Va. uses first of opioid settlement to purchase scanners for jails, prisons

The purchase is the first to be made using money from a $37 million settlement with McKesson Corp.

By Lacie Pierson
The Charleston Gazette, W.Va.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The West Virginia Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation will use a portion of the opioid settlement money to purchase body and package scanners to identify, and hopefully prevent, contraband being brought into the state’s regional jails and prisons.

The purchase is the first to be made using money from a $37 million settlement with McKesson Corp. since Attorney General Patrick Morrisey announced the settlement in May.

Gov. Jim Justice approved a request from the division to purchase scanners to ensure every jail and prison, as well as an employee training center, is equipped to prevent contraband from entering the facilities.

Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety Secretary Jeff Sandy on Monday made the announcement during a meeting of the Legislative Oversight Committee on the Regional Jail and Correctional Facility Authority.

The bulk of the settlement, which Morrisey in May said was “believed to be the nation’s largest state settlement against a single pharmaceutical distributor,” will be split three ways among the three plaintiffs in the case: the Attorney General’s Office, the Department of Health and Human Resources and the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety, according to the settlement order filed in Boone Circuit Court and provided to the Gazette-Mail by the Attorney General’s Office.

Cash flow to the state

The three plaintiffs received an initial payment of $14.5 million from McKesson in May, and attorneys and other legal fees were set to be paid out of that initial payment, said Brian Abraham, general counsel to the governor.

That initial payment was wired to the trust account of the law firm that Morrisey’s office contracted to represent the plaintiffs, Bailey Javins & Carter LC in Charleston. Once the attorney fees and other legal fees were taken out of that payment, the Attorney General’s Office, DHHR and DMAPS split the remaining funds equally, Abraham said.

Outside counsel in the McKesson case received an estimated $4.85 million in fees — 13.1 percent of the total damages obtained, said Curtis Johnson, spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office.

That leaves about $9.65 million to be split among the three plaintiffs until McKesson begins paying the rest of the settlement through annual installments, about $3.2 million each.

Beginning in May 2020 and ending in 2024, the plaintiffs will receive $4.5 million each year once they establish wiring instructions and complete relevant tax forms, according to the settlement order. That means each entity will get $1.5 million.

Johnson said the attorneys’ fees in the McKesson settlement were “a drastic reduction in comparison to prior cases that received 33.3 percent.”

“This means Attorney General Morrisey’s work in negotiating lower fees prior to filing the McKesson lawsuit saved state taxpayers $7.36 million in legal fees, efficiency that will help preserve settlement dollars to further the Attorney General’s holistic fight against opioid abuse from a supply, a demand and an educational perspective,” Johnson said. “Every dollar saved provides more treatment and greater enforcement.”

Where the money can be spent

The settlement order states how each relevant state entity can spend the money, with the Attorney General’s Office’s share being deposited into the office’s Consumer Protection Recovery Fund.

Morrisey can use the money for his office, hold it for appropriation by the Legislature or distribute it to taxpayers and/or consumers, according to the settlement order.

Otherwise, officials in DHHR and DMAPS can submit requests to the governor’s office to use the money to purchase certain equipment or support specifically named programs or purposes.

The money can be used “to support a comprehensive family treatment continuum, develop prevention programs that address adverse childhood experiences and the social detriments of health,” and “develop an adequate workforce to address mental health and substance abuse,” among several other uses aimed at substance abuse treatment prevention, treatment and recovery, according to the order.

In addition to being able to purchase body scanners, DMAPS and DHHR can use the money for in-jail rehabilitation programs, justice reinvestment, vocational programming in jails, condemnation and demolition of blight properties throughout the state, and for a drug prevention program for grandparents who are raising their grandchildren because the grandchildren’s parents are suffering from addiction.

The Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation already has body scanners and x-ray machines at nine of the 10 regional jails, with Potomac Highlands Regional Jail in Hampshire County being the only regional jail without them, said Lawrence Messina, spokesman for the state Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety.

Using the settlement money, the governor approved the purchase of 18 body scanners and 41 x-ray machines to populate each incarceration facility with the equipment. The Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation has not been authorized to use any of the McKesson settlement money for anything else, Messina said.

Messina said division officials won’t know exactly how much the new equipment will cost until the bidding process is completed, but it’s estimated each body scanner will cost $102,000. Each x-ray machine is estimated to cost $35,000, he said, putting the estimated total cost of the equipment at a little more than $3.2 million, about the full amount of settlement money DMAPS received in 2019.

Paul Simmons, deputy commissioner of field services for the Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation, told the Legislative Oversight Committee on Monday that between March 2018 and May 2019, the existing scanners and x-ray machines have led to 24 instances of contraband being discovered en route to the jails.

“Inmates and criminals are pretty creative when it comes to getting packages,” Simmons said during the meeting. “I’ve seen contraband come through TVs. I’ve seen contraband come through books and magazines. ... These machines can catch that stuff.”

The scanners have detected various drugs and drug paraphernalia, Messina said, noting the scanners also serve as a deterrent for visitors and even jail and prison staff from bringing in banned items.

“We have found contraband including drugs, tobacco and even cell phones in jail parking lots and lobbies after arrestees apparently discarded them before reaching the body scanner,” Messina said.

To-date, DHHR has not made any requests to spend its portion of the settlement money, Abraham said.

Allison Adler, a DHHR spokeswoman, said department officials have “developed and funded a broad range of programs and services to combat the Substance Use Disorder epidemic,” including those focused on helping women who are suffering from addiction during and after pregnancy.

“Initial plans for the settlement funds would be to support residential treatment services for pregnant and post-partum women in areas where those services are not available or currently being developed,” Adler said.

©2019 The Charleston Gazette (Charleston, W.Va.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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