A Kentucky commission assigned to distribute money from a massive settlement with opioid companies will award more than $8 million to two dozen organizations specializing in drug prevention, treatment and recovery services, Attorney General Daniel Cameron said Thursday.
The Kentucky Opioid Abatement Advisory Commission will funnel the money to an array of programs based in small towns and the state’s largest cities. The awards will help combat a drug epidemic that Cameron has branded as “the public safety challenge of our lifetime.”
“For too long, the opioid epidemic has maintained a tight and painful grip on Kentuckians, but today there is hope and there is help,” the Republican attorney general said.
Cameron announced the grants at an event at Kentucky’s Capitol.
It comes amid a combative Republican primary for governor that has focused at times on illegal drugs and the deadly toll it has taken on Kentuckians. Cameron is a leading contender for the GOP gubernatorial nomination in the state’s May 16 primary. In trying to undercut Cameron, GOP campaign rival Kelly Craft has said the drug epidemic worsened during Cameron’s tenure as attorney general.
Cameron has stoutly defended his actions to combat illegal drugs while also promoting treatment services. His office secured nearly $900 million for Kentucky as part of settlements with companies for their roles in the opioid addiction crisis.
There’s a running debate about who should share in the credit for bringing opioid settlement money to the Bluegrass State, but also who should be blamed for a surge in drug-related deaths that plagued Kentucky in recent years. Overdose deaths nationally soared amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron speaks in Louisville, Kentucky, on March 7, 2023. Cameron said the state’s drug epidemic is “the public safety challenge of our lifetime.” (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley, Pool, File)
Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear has noted that he filed a series of lawsuits against opioid manufacturers and distributors when he was Cameron’s predecessor as attorney general.
“I did it so we could have our best shot of getting out of this epidemic,” Beshear said Thursday when asked about the settlement money at his weekly news conference.
Beshear is running for reelection to a second term as governor this year.
Half of Kentucky’s settlement to combat the opioid crisis will flow directly to cities and counties. The commission oversees the state’s half. Cameron announced the group’s membership last year and it held town hall meetings to hear from people harmed by the opioid epidemic.
Bryan Hubbard, the commission’s executive director, said Thursday that the next round of grant funding from the settlement could be announced sometime in early- to mid-fall.
Cameron cautioned that the “road for recovery is only just begun” in the fight against opioid abuse.
“This money is not an end-all, be-all,” Cameron told reporters afterward. “It’s not a magic elixir. But it is a significant down payment in making sure that we restore hope to communities all across Kentucky.”
Meanwhile, Craft has tried to diminish Cameron’s drug-fighting record.
At a recent GOP gubernatorial debate on Kentucky Sports Radio, Craft was asked if she thought Cameron — who skipped the debate — has been a good attorney general. She responded that the state’s drug epidemic had escalated during Cameron’s term as attorney general.
“He is a decent person,” Craft said. “But is he the person that can get the job done? That can only be answered by the results that he’s had as attorney general.”
Craft’s campaign advertising blitz has included promises to aggressively fight illegal drugs if elected governor. She says she supports the death penalty for drug traffickers found responsible for causing a Kentuckian’s death. Craft is a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
Last week, Beshear pointed to statistics showing that drug overdose deaths in Kentucky fell by 5% in 2022 — which would be the first decline in four years. Beshear called it a sign of hope that treatment efforts are relieving the addiction epidemic but said it remains a public health crisis.
The Kentucky Injury Prevention and Research Center found that 2,127 Kentuckians died from drug overdoses in 2022, down from 2,257 the prior year, the governor’s office said last week.