KY3 EXCLUSIVE: Mo. Attorney General discusses advances on $500 million opioid settlement, plus steps still needed to secure funding

Updated: Sep. 24, 2021 at 10:00 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - Under a sweeping opioid settlement, Missouri could get as much as $500 million to help victims of the ongoing opioid epidemic.

The settlement involves four major drug-making companies, including the drugmaker Johnson & Johnson. Efforts regarding the settlement were announced back in July. Lawyers for state and local governments across the country have joined arms demanding a deal from the pharmaceutical industry.

Since the initial announcement of the $26 billion settlement, the required number of state Attorneys General, including Missouri Attorney General Eric Scmitt, have signed on and agreed to the terms of the settlement. The pharmaceutical companies have also agreed to the terms.

“The focus was to make sure we were holding big pharmaceutical companies accountable for the damage that they’ve caused across our country, and specifically here in Missouri,” Missouri Attorney General Eric Scmitt told KY3 in an exclusive interview. “It’s unconscionable the sort of misrepresentations they had about the addictive nature of these drugs.”

Schmitt’s office says they are now up against the clock to secure the state’s allotted funding. In order to secure the nearly half a billion dollars worth of aid, the Attorney General has to get political subdivisions and municipalities in Missouri to sign on by the Jan. 2 deadline.

Schmitt said that mostly comes down to one thing - informing the public.

“Making sure they’re aware of what it can mean for their communities,” he said. “And I’m very confident. I think our interests are aligned. We represent the same people.”

The money would be spent directly on victims themselves, which would include treatment and recovery services, counseling, as well as law enforcement resources.

“There are over 120 people who die every day from opioid overdoses,” Schmitt said. “That’s like a plane going down every day of every week of every month of every year.”

Schmitt said the funding could go a very long way.

“Stopping the addiction and saving lives is really what we’re focused on here because there are so many people who have been affected by it, friends and neighbors and loved ones. We want to do everything we can to make sure they get the support that they need,” he said.

Ralph Begay is only one of many who have been affected personally. His journey started in 2013.

”My mother passed away, and I didn’t grieve properly,” Begay said. “And I didn’t know how to deal with it.”

Begay said he had stayed away from alcohol and drugs for nine years, but then decided to try it again just for one night.

”It opened up a beast,” he said. “Like it awakened this beast that I didn’t know still existed. It was there. And my life went upside down on a fast track.”

Begay said his opioid abuse almost cost him his family multiple times.

“It wasn’t until 2017, that she [my wife] took extreme measures,” Begay said. “And I got kicked out of my house. I was on the street for a little bit.”

Though Begay said he tried to get help multiple times, he still struggled immensely.

”I kept falling, I kept stumbling, I kept, you know, returning to use,” he said.

But after a continued fight against his depression and opioid abuse, he has now been sober since 2017. He also now serves as a recovery coach at Burrell Behavioral Health in Springfield.

”I provide outreach to individuals who have survived an overdosed from opiates,” he said. “And I try to get them connected to services, and it helps me to help them.”

He now has a message to others, who may feel just as alone as he once did.

”I would say that help is available,” Begay said. “I would encourage someone who is struggling to reach out for help. Help is available. We have the crisis line, obviously, that people can call. And there are walk-in clinics that you can present to and reach out for help. There’s the emergency room you can reach out to. You can show up at our 24/7 behavioral crisis center that’s available. And they’re open 24 /7, they’re open 365 days a year.”

Schmitt said Missouri counties need to sign on to the agreement for the state to get its full share. If the state does not reach its share by the Jan. 2, the settlement amount could potentially be reduced by half.

If the state receives the funding, some of that could go directly to resources and services just like the ones Ralph Begay provides at Burrell Behavioral Health.

If you or a loved one are in need of help, the Behavioral Crisis Center is located on 800 S. Park Avenue in Springfield. Services at the facility are offered 24/7 and 365 days a year.

If you or a loved one are in a crisis substance use situation, you can walk in, be stabilized and assessed, and see a provider and get started on Medication Assistance Treatment (Suboxone) that day.

You can reach the crisis line at 1-800-494-7355. To reach the non-crisis line at Burrell Murney Clinic, you can call 417-893-7760 or Burrell’s main line at 417-761-5000.

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