OLYMPIA — Lindsey Greinke Arrington is in her ninth year free of opioid addiction.
And the 30-year-old Everett mother of three is spending a chunk of her time trying to convince state leaders to make a unique long-term commitment to overcoming the ravages of the opioid epidemic.
Her idea — embodied in legislation awaiting action in the state House — aims to ensure any money the state secures from its opioid litigation is earmarked to addressing the substance abuse disorder crisis with treatment and prevention programs and not funding the day-to-day operations of government.
Moreover, she wants to make sure that those whose personal and professional lives have been affected by the opioid crisis will have a say in how the money — potentially hundreds of millions of dollars — is spent. It’s modeled after an approach in Minnesota.
“I am here to be the voice for all of the voices of the opioid epidemic. While I am a victim, I have victory,” she said at a House Appropriations Committee hearing last month on House Bill 2786. “We can end this crisis. This bill will help us get closer than ever to that.”
The bill, introduced by Rep. June Robinson, D-Everett, creates the Opioid Epidemic Response Advisory Council to make recommendations to the Legislature on how financial penalties recovered from lawsuits are distributed. Its 21 members would include substance abuse disorder professionals, nurses, children of addicted parents as well as representatives of nonprofits and prevention groups.
Robinson said she is trying to address lawmakers’ concern that any lawsuit settlement does not wind up in the general fund of the state budget as occurred years ago with tobacco settlement dollars.
To date, state Attorney General Bob Ferguson has filed three lawsuits related to the opioid epidemic.
The first, in 2017, was against OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma. Last year he sued opioid distributors McKesson Corporation, Cardinal Health Incorporated, and AmerisourceBergen Drug Corporation and the case could go to trial this year.
Last month, he sued Johnson & Johnson, accusing the company of fueling the epidemic through the use of deceptive marketing that their drugs were effective for treating pain and were unlikely to cause addiction.
If the state prevails in any, or all, it could receive a bundle of money.
In 2019, in a similar lawsuit, Purdue Pharma settled with the state of Oklahoma and agreed to pay $270 million to fund addiction research and treatment. And in a second lawsuit brought by that state, a lower court judge fined Johnson & Johnson several hundred million dollars for its role in perpetuating an opioid epidemic in Oklahoma.
Ferguson strongly supports Robinson’s goal of making sure money received from the legal fights goes to help people and communities recover from the opioid epidemic, and not be swept into the general fund.
Arrington, in her testimony at the hearing, said if financial penalties are all the state gets “we must take it and make the absolute most of it.”
She recounted how an adult first told her about OxyContin.
“I was told it would help” me deal with anxiety and depression, she said in an interview. She became addicted. When she was unable to support her habit, she turned to heroin, a cheaper and, at the time, more readily available opiate alternative, she told the Herald in a 2014 interview.
With treatment, she broke her addiction and launched a nonprofit, “Hope Soldiers,” to help others navigate away from drugs.
At the hearing, her eldest child, Jackson, who is 10, sat at her side. He experienced her low moments and recovery.
“I am here to be a voice for the children who have no choice,” he said. “This bill can turn tragedies into miracles.”
Washington Association for Substance Abuse Prevention and the Association of Boys & Girls Clubs of Washington are among the groups backing the bill. If it becomes law, each could have a member on the advisory council.
“We don’t want to see this money disappear into the general fund and go who knows where,” said Seth Dawson, of the substance abuse prevention group.
Katya Miltimore, executive director of Boys & Girls Clubs of Washington, said the approach could create a means for the organization to expand its Positive Action prevention curriculum to more locations. It is currently available in 20 of the association’s 140 clubs, including ones in Granite Falls and Sultan.
She said the organization has the structure, expertise and past experience to help young people develop skills to manage pressure from peers. The voice of youth development and prevention must be at the table, she said.
The legislation cleared the appropriations committee Feb. 3 and was placed on the House floor calendar Monday.
It was a party-line vote in the appropriations committee with Republicans united in opposition due to two primary concerns.
They sought assurances that any money would go to support ongoing programs and not be used to start new ones.
Also, they opposed language in the bill directing the advisory council to “consider compensation for the most affected victims of the opioid epidemic, especially families that have specifically lost a loved one to an opiate overdose or whose lives have been devastated by the effects of opioids.”
“How could you ask this committee to decide if one person’s loss was greater than another’s?” said Rep. Joe Schmick, R-Colfax.
Arrington, speaking after the vote, said it is a provision that could be removed if it would help the bill reach the governor’s desk.
“It is not supposed to serve as a settlement fund,” she said. “I wanted an option for families who have been absolutely devastated by this crisis.”