Kentucky's Democratic attorney general says he has hired four law firms to investigate and potentially sue several makers and marketers of opioid-based painkillers that have spurred a wave addiction across Appalachia.
But Republican Gov. Matt Bevin's administration said Andy Beshear's announcement Friday was premature. Spokesman Glenn Waldrop said the Finance and Administration Cabinet has not approved the contract, and said Attorney General Andy Beshear's office did not follow the required approval process.
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"At the end of the day, there is a chance this contract may not be approved," Waldrop said.
Deputy Attorney General J. Michael Brown said the lawsuits are "good for all Kentuckians and shouldn't be political," adding the attorney general's office "followed all procurement laws and made this announcement consistent with previous awards."
The team includes the firms of Morgan & Morgan, Motley Rice, the Lanier Law Firm and Ransdell Roach & Royse PLLC. Morgan & Morgan is based in Florida, but they have offices in Kentucky. Their attorneys include former Democratic Attorney General Greg Stumbo.
Ransdell Roach & Royse is based in Lexington. Its attorneys include John Roach, a former Kentucky Supreme Court justice who served on Bevin's transition team after he was elected governor.
Motley Rice is based in South Carolina while the Lanier firm is based in Houston.
"We look forward to working with this experienced team of local and national attorneys who have the resources and knowledge to help this office secure funds," Beshear said in a news release. "We need the best team to help us repair the harm caused by those who have played a role in Kentucky's opioid crisis."
Kentucky has one of the highest rates of drug overdose deaths in the country. The state sued Purdue Pharma, the maker of the opioid-based painkiller Oxycontin, accusing it of lying to consumers about the addictive nature of the drug. The state settled the lawsuit in 2015 for $24 million.
Beshear took office in 2016. Before that, he worked for one of the law firms that defended Purdue Pharma, causing Republicans to raise questions about a conflict of interest. Beshear has said he was not an "active participant" on that case, but he might have answered some questions from his colleagues about it.