OxyContin was once the most prescribed drug in West Virginia.

Our state Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR), which runs Medicaid and thus buys drugs for the Mountain State poor, spent $4 million on the drug in 2000 alone, footing the bill for a whopping 27,771 prescriptions.

We know this factoid thanks to Attorney General Darrell McGraw. In 2001, he used DHHR's "overpayment" for OxyContin as the basis for his now infamous lawsuit against Purdue Pharma. The company's "coercive and deceptive" marketing practices duped DHHR into spending many extra millions on its drugs, McGraw charged. He sued the drug maker, plain and simple, to get the state agency its money back.

This-- in newspapers, at press conferences, and in official documents filed with the court in McDowell County-- is what McGraw represented to taxpayers. As attorney general, he was acting as DHHR's lawyer, aiming to recover money for DHHR.

But that was then. Now, six years later and called on the carpet to explain his brash indiscretions in the Purdue Pharma case, McGraw is claiming he didn't sue the company to recover "overpayment" by DHHR after all.

Sure, he said that at the time. Sure, it was the stated cause of action in his lawsuit. But it isn't what he meant.

You know the adage: When it comes to some politicians, it depends what the meaning of "is," is.

McGraw's spectacular display of duplicity arrived last week in the form of an "appeal notice" letter to the federal government, which is seizing $4.1 million from West Virginia taxpayers to make up for the Medicaid dollars McGraw spent promoting himself.

The letter lists McGraw's best laid excuses for why he felt justified intercepting DHHR's $10 million settlement and, rather than giving it to DHHR, spending it all himself.

Among them: the federal government waited too long to investigate, and it read first about McGraw's scheme in this very newspaper (huh?).

Then there's the richest: DHHR deserves nothing because the fine print shows McGraw technically "abandoned" it as a plaintiff at the last minute before settling with Purdue Pharma.

Incredible.

Try as he might to twist what happened, or obfuscate the Purdue Pharma issue with tortured legalese so as to vindicate his unscrupulous behavior, the bottom line here is that this state's top legal officer took money that wasn't his and spent it. And he was caught, red-handed.

It's time to get on with the inevitable consequences and move on. Compounding the embarrassment with flailed finger-pointing and self-serving revisionism only serves to compound the cost for West Virginians.

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