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Kansas legislators circumvent board allocating state’s opioid settlement funds, stalling distribution process

J. Schafer
Kansas Public Radio/File photo

The board has paused further allocating the state's settlement funds as a result of the legislature's actions.

Editor’s note: Gov. Laura Kelly line-item vetoed allocations made by the legislature using the state’s opioid settlement funds in the budget bill.

Members of the Kansas Fights Addiction Board have sent a letter to state lawmakers and the governor’s office in response to lawmakers allocating funds without the board’s approval.

The board is in charge of allocating opioid settlement funds, money that is part of national legal settlements against prescription opioid makers, distributors and pharmacies. The state of Kansas expects to receive more than $340 million over the next 18 years.

Lawmakers during budget hearings last month decided to give several programs, mostly in northeast Kansas, nearly $8 million, circumventing the process set up by the board to allocate the funds.

“The KFA Board, which was created by the Legislature with the sole purpose of receiving and considering applications for grants of money from the state’s opioid settlement, respectfully requests that the Legislature honor the established process in place, and that funds not be allocated outside of the established process,” the letter reads.

The allocations were:

  • $47,000 in fiscal year 2024 and $185,000 in fiscal year 2025 to the Kansas City Full Circle Program.
  • $2.5 million to the Valley Hope Substance Use Disorder Fund, to help expand its Atchinson location.
  • $5 million to the Indigent Support Fund at the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services, a new program.

The letter stated that board members were not in opposition to the allocations, but the process in which the funds were allocated.
Currently, organizations that want to receive settlement funds go through a grant review application process. The board allocated about $10 million last year for substance use prevention and treatment programs.

The letter warns that if lawmakers circumvent this process, the rest of the state’s settlement funds could be in jeopardy. The settlements include approved uses for the funds, which means that if funds aren’t spent appropriately, the state could lose that money.

“Defendants are monitoring State compliance with vigor, and the settlement agreements allow for modification or withholding of payments if we fall out of compliance. If a state were to circumvent or sidestep its abatement agreement, the state would likely violate the court orders implementing the settlements.”

When the board was notified of the allocations at its April 12 meeting, several members with previous experience on state boards worried that the opioid funds could mirror what happened with state gambling and addiction funds, mitigating its effectiveness.

“Currently, the KFA process prioritizes the swift and balanced infusion of settlement dollars into programs addressing a variety of priority areas within the fields of prevention, treatment, and recovery on local, state, and regional levels,” the letter said. “It is imperative this approach continue.”

It also paused any future settlement allocations as a result of the legislature’s actions. The board was poised to do a second round of grant applications, with even more money than previously allocated.

The letter said the board won’t resume this action until the financial implications are better understood by the board.

The board also has asked the Sunflower Foundation and the University of Kansas’ Center for Public Partnerships & Research to develop a yearlong comprehensive statewide needs assessment, which will later guide the board on how funds should be further spent.

Full Circle

Full Circle, based in Overland Park, is one of the groups that received funding. It’s an “enthusiastic sobriety” group, which offers no-cost drug and alcohol support groups that promise to be more fun than getting high.

But enthusiastic sobriety programs are often controversial and described as “cult-like” by former members of those programs.

KCUR previously reported about several survivors' experiences at Full Circle, with many of them alleging illegal activities and emotional manipulation.

Enthusiastic sobriety groups, like Full Circle, have inspired organizations like the Enthusiastic Sobriety Abuse Alliance to create an anonymous complaint form, collecting hundreds of complaints across the country, several of those stemming from groups in Kansas and Missouri.

The more than $200,000 allocation to the group came from Rep. Sean Tarwater of Stillwell during a House appropriations committee meeting in March. He said during tearful testimony that he lost his younger brother to opioids.

After Full Circle contacted him and gave him a tour, he asked lawmakers to put the line item from the state’s settlement funds in the budget bill at the request of staff there. He said when he was given a tour of the facility, staff there told him they recently applied for a grant, but didn’t receive it. It’s unclear whether that grant application was through the Kansas Fights Addiction board.

“I couldn’t help but think while I was there, it would have been a place that would’ve really helped my brother,” Tarwater said during the meeting.

The Kansas Attorney General’s office, which oversees the state board, declined to comment about the allocation to Full Circle. Board Chair Pat George also said he had no comment, saying he didn’t know much about the organization.

“These legislative actions create an unfair advantage for organizations seeking settlement dollars,” the letter to the legislators said, “requiring organizations to choose between following the processes set up through the KFA board or requesting funds directly from their legislator.”

Gov. Laura Kelly has until later this week to sign the budget bill.

Kylie Cameron (she/her) is a general assignment reporter for KMUW. Before KMUW, Kylie was a digital producer at KWCH, and served as editor in chief of The Sunflower at Wichita State. You can follow her on Twitter @bykyliecameron.
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