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Drug policy reform group sues board responsible for spending half of Ohio's opioid settlement money

 A box containing two bottles of Narcan, the nasal spray helps reverse an opioid overdose.
Karen Kasler
/
Statehouse News Bureau
A box containing two bottles of Narcan, the nasal spray helps reverse an opioid overdose.

A drug policy reform group said the foundation set up by the state to spend more than $400 million in opioid settlement money on substance use treatment programs isn’t being transparent about how it will do that.

That group has filed a lawsuit to force the OneOhio Recovery Foundation to share more information about how that money will be parceled out.

The OneOhio Recovery Foundation was set up by the state in 2020 to pay for substance use recovery, treatment and prevention programs. Just over half of the $808 million settlement will go to the OneOhio Recovery Foundation for 18 years. Local governments get 30% of the settlement, and the state gets 15%.

Dennis Cauchon, president of Harm Reduction Ohio, said the OneOhio Recovery Foundation Board isn’t following the state’s open meetings law, and while he said he thinks the 29 members now on the board mean well, this new bureaucratic entity could lead to future problems.

“I say preschedule the indictments because in year 11, if you've got $100 million to spend in a year, don't have to follow ethics law, you can spend on whatever you want," Cauchon said. "It's a formula for cronyism written all over it."

Cauchon said he's also requested documents from the board that haven't been provided.

Cauchon said he's concerned about the makeup of the board, which is composed of appointees of Gov. Mike DeWine, state lawmakers and local government leaders, saying it's important to include people with treatment and recovery program experience.

Cauchon cites as an example the board's decision to hire an Oklahoma-based IT provider that works extensively with governments to contract with a public relations firm. The board voted in July to hire TrustDigital for $10,000 a month. He called that decision "offensive."

“The combination of people in this case needs to include people who have suffered from opioids, the reason this money exists, and they have essentially been excluded entirely," Cauchon said. "If you don't know the population and you don't know the issue, you can't spend a half billion dollars wisely."

A spokesman for DeWine said the OneOhio Recovery Foundation is a private nonprofit organization and also said in a statement: "The OneOhio Recovery Foundation was set up so that opioid litigation settlement proceeds could benefit future generations. While our office is not a party to the lawsuit, we believe that the OneOhio Recovery Foundation has provided significant transparency to date to the public.”

A request for comment from Benesch, Friedlander, Coplan & Aronoff, the law firm working with the OneOhio Recovery Foundation, did not receive a response.

Copyright 2022 The Statehouse News Bureau. To see more, visit The Statehouse News Bureau.

Karen is a lifelong Ohioan who has served as news director at WCBE-FM, assignment editor/overnight anchor at WBNS-TV, and afternoon drive anchor/assignment editor in WTAM-AM in Cleveland. In addition to her daily reporting for Ohio’s public radio stations, she’s reported for NPR, the BBC, ABC Radio News and other news outlets. She hosts and produces the Statehouse News Bureau’s weekly TV show “The State of Ohio”, which airs on PBS stations statewide. She’s also a frequent guest on WOSU TV’s “Columbus on the Record”, a regular panelist on “The Sound of Ideas” on ideastream in Cleveland, appeared on the inaugural edition of “Face the State” on WBNS-TV and occasionally reports for “PBS Newshour”. She’s often called to moderate debates, including the Columbus Metropolitan Club’s Issue 3/legal marijuana debate and its pre-primary mayoral debate, and the City Club of Cleveland’s US Senate debate in 2012.