Ohio considering fund to protect opioid settlement money

COLUMBUS (AP) — The Ohio Attorney General’s Office is floating the idea of changing the state constitution to create a fund to ensure future settlement money from government lawsuits over the opioid epidemic is used to address that problem.

A memo this week from a deputy to Republican Attorney General Dave Yost suggested that a March ballot issue establishing such a fund is the best path to making sure the money isn’t diverted to other uses, as happened after settlements with big tobacco companies.

The odds of quick action on the idea seem slim. Republican Gov. Mike DeWine considers it premature as the state and dozens of counties and cities behind such lawsuits continue to work toward agreement on how to divvy up and spend the potential multimillion-dollar payouts.

Besides that, changing the constitution would require a statewide vote, and the Legislature would have to approve the proposal first. And lawmakers would be crunched for time to get it on the March ballot. The House and Senate would have to OK it before the filing deadline in less than two weeks, on Dec. 18, and the chambers haven’t even discussed the plan yet.

It’s not the first time Yost has sought to elevate the state’s role in opioid litigation. A federal appeals court declined in October to side with his argument that states, not local governments, have the sole authority to file such lawsuits on behalf of their citizens.

Shortly thereafter, two Ohio counties, Cuyahoga and Summit, struck a $260 million settlement with the nation’s three biggest drug distributors and a major drugmaker.