Arkansas Attorney General Rutledge directs $140 million in opioid settlement funds to state’s general revenue fund

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge (left) speaks alongside Shannon Halijan, Deputy Attorney General for the Public Protection Department of the AG’s Office at a press conference on Thursday, Dec. 15, 2022. (AG Office video)

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge is directing more than $140 million in opioid settlement money to the state’s general revenue fund. The Arkansas Legislature will be responsible for deciding how to spend the money.

Many lawsuits against opioid manufacturers and distributors restrict the use of funds to initiatives addressing the opioid epidemic such as substance abuse treatment or mental health care programs, Rutledge said during a press conference Thursday.

Rutledge encouraged the General Assembly to include stakeholders in discussions on how best to use the funds by forming a commission or task force. Legislation has been drafted that lawmakers can look over and consider if they want to create a commission, she said.

“This challenge is too great for one person to handle and the weight of it is too much for one person’s shoulders, and that’s why all of us in the state have to shoulder the responsibility,” Rutledge said.

Over the last six years, the state of Arkansas has secured approximately $430 million in opioid settlement funding. Of that, more than $140 million will go back to the state. The office has received about $20 million of that funding to date. Many of the settlements will be paid out in installments in the coming years.

Split with cities, counties

A memorandum of understanding signed in October 2021 formalized an agreement to split opioid settlement funds evenly between cities, counties and the state “when that resolution has been jointly entered into” by these three entities.

Former state drug director Kirk Lane is overseeing the disbursal of funding to counties and cities as the director of the Arkansas Opioid Recovery Partnership. The Association of Arkansas Counties and the Arkansas Municipal League formed the organization and Lane began his new role in August.

ARORP is offering $16 million for programs addressing opioid misuse and addiction. The partnership began accepting proposals in early November. Funding opportunities are ongoing so there are no submission deadlines.

Approximately 75% of all drug overdose deaths in the United States in 2020 involved an opioid, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Arkansas reported 546 overdose deaths in 2020, the most recent data readily available from the CDC.

Opioid-related deaths increased from 261 in 2020 to 371 in 2021, according to the Arkansas Opioid Dashboard.

During Thursday’s press conference, Rutledge reflected on initiatives her office implemented during her tenure to address the opioid epidemic such as her mobile offices hosting drug take back events in all of 75 counties.

“It is an incredible thing when you’re able to go out after eight years just as you came in, and that’s fighting strong for Arkansans, bringing millions of dollars back and directing them to the General Revenue to ensure that it’s used best for the people of Arkansas,” she said.

Rutledge was elected to serve as Arkansas’ Lieutenant Governor in the November general election. She’s the first woman elected to the position. Current Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin will succeed Rutledge as Arkansas Attorney General.

“Upon taking office, I will conduct a comprehensive review and assessment of the office’s handling of settlement funds,” Griffin said in a statement Thursday.

This story first appeared in Arkansas Advocate and is being republished through a Creative Commons License. See the original story here.

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