Attorney general wants to continue fighting opioid abuse

Nathan Thompson |
Mike Hunter

Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter said he wants to continue the fight against opioid abuse and protect public safety, as he seeks a full term as the state’s chief legal and law enforcement officer.

Hunter spoke with the Journal-Capital last week, after the Oklahoma Commission on Opioid Abuse released its findings and final recommendations for legislation, policy and rule changes to combat the state’s current opioid epidemic.

The nine-member commission, made of representatives from law enforcement, the medical community, private sector businesses and the state legislature, met six times over the course of the last five months to hear testimony from state and national stakeholders involved in the opioid epidemic. Washington County District Attorney Kevin Buchanan also served on the commission.

“I appreciate the commission members for their dedicated efforts over the last several months,” Hunter said. “We have dug in and believe we have put together the best recommendations to set the state on a better path forward. I remain committed to a continued dialogue with members of the legislature and others involved as we see these initiatives through.”

Many of the committee’s recommendations focused in on accountability of those who manufacture the addictive drugs and providers who prescribe opioids. The commission wants to see the use of electronic prescriptions mandated by the state legislature and require medical clinic owners to register with the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs.

The commission also recommended levying a tax on manufacturers, wholesalers and distributors of opioids, and use the money as a funding mechanism for opioid addiction treatment; as well as making sure drug courts and other specialty courts throughout the state are fully funded.

Hunter has taken the fight against opioid abuse one step further, when he filed a lawsuit against drug manufacturers, alleging the companies intentionally misled the public on the dangers and addictive properties of opioid-based pain medication. It is the first lawsuit in the nation where a state has filed for culpability and damage relief to hold opioid manufacturers accountable.

The court hearing is scheduled for 2019.

“In order for the state to deal with the (opioid) epidemic comprehensively, you’ve got to deal with both supply and demand,” Hunter said. “The culpability of the drug manufacturers for our problems, we think is clear and provable, or we wouldn’t have sued them. A big part of our lawsuit is holding them responsible for over-supply, the multi-decade systematic obfuscation that they did in representing the addictive quality of opioids. We think the damages to the state is in the billions.”

Public service is nothing new to Hunter. He is a fourth-generation Oklahoman, raised in Garfield County and served in the state legislature from 1984 until 1991. He went back into private practice as a lawyer until 1993, when he served as general counsel for the Oklahoma Corporation Commission.

In 1994, Hunter was the Republican nominee for Oklahoma Attorney General, losing a close election against former Attorney General Drew Edmonson. He was named Chief of Staff for U.S. Rep. J.C. Watts from 1995 until 1999 and then served as Oklahoma Secretary of State under Gov. Frank Keating until 2002 before heading back to private law practice.

Hunter served as Secretary of the Commissioners of the Land Office from 2011 to 2015, when he was appointed First Assistant Attorney General under Scott Pruitt. When Pruitt was appointed Adminstrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency by President Donald J. Trump, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin appointed Hunter to replace Pruitt as the state’s Attorney General.

Hunter said he made the decision to run for a full term as attorney general, and wants to continue the fight for Oklahoma and continue to serve the people of the state.

“This is an important job in the state and the combination of my public sector and private sector experience as a lawyer, my experience as a manager and background as a legislator — all of those things really combine to help me do this job in a way that is responsive to the important and serious responsibilities as our state’s attorney general,” Hunter said. “This is a great state. There are challenges, as every state has challenges. My responsibility is to make sure in meeting these challenges, policymakers get the best advice that they can, and that’s what we try to do in the AG’s office.

“Moreover, when I have a direct responsibility to represent the citizens of the state, that is something that we put our heart and soul into.”

Hunter has yet to draw an opponent on either the Republican side or Democrat side. If he has a Republican opponent, his name will appear on the June 2018 primary ballot before heading to the November 2018 general election.