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HELENA - Former Montana Supreme Court Justice John Warner, now overseeing a $9.5 million mental health trust fund, announced Monday he has assembled the seven-member committee to help decide how the state spends the money.

Warner said in a news release he hopes to begin evaluating requests for the money in the next few months.

Warner, who stepped down from the high court the end of last year, is the trustee in charge of the Montana Mental Health Settlement Trust, the account holding the state's share of a $13 million settlement payment from drug maker Eli Lily & Co.

In 2007, the state sued the company on behalf of Montana consumers who were prescribed the anti-psychotic medication Zyprexa for illnesses the drug was not designed to treat.

The drug company never said it did anything wrong in the settlement; it stands accused of marketing Zyprexa to people with dementia, autism, Alzheimer's disease or depression, even though the medicine was never approved for those conditions. The state alleged Zyprexa does nothing for people suffering from those conditions, but can nonetheless causes serious side effects.

Zyprexa was studied and first marketed to help control symptoms of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

Some 40 states signed on to a single lawsuit against Eli Lily. Montana filed its own suit.

Some of the money in the settlement went to cover the costs of bringing the suit, leaving $9.5 million in a special account to be spent on mental health programs in Montana.

Montana's money will go to either public or private groups working with the mentally ill, including training for law enforcement, crisis intervention services, children's mental health programs and money to help mentally ill patients live on their own.

The settlement agreement required the formation of the committee.

The trust is in the process of setting up a website at www.mmhst.org, where groups may apply for grants.

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The committee members are:

  • Pam Vies of Havre, a psychiatric nurse and adult case manager at the Center for Mental Health. She has more than 25 years' experience in working in the mental health field.
  • Marcia Armstrong of Helena, the manager of the state's Department of Public Health and Human Service's Medicaid program. Armstrong has worked in grant monitoring and oversight for 20 years and has worked in community mental health service planning for 10 years.
  • Robert Runkel of Helena, administrator for the DPHHS Children's Mental Health Bureau. Before taking his current post, Runkel worked for 20 years as director of special education.
  • Dan Tronrud, sheriff of Sweet Grass County for the last 12 years. Tronrud sits on several local boards, including those that deal with addictive disorders, child protection, mental health and has worked with local and regional groups to help provide services to those with mental illness.
  • Gary Mihelish, a Helena dentist and longtime advocate for the mentally ill and their families. Mihelish is the state president of the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Montana.
  • Robert Ross of Billings, recently retired from his job as the executive director of the South Central Regional Mental Health Center there. Ross is a licensed counselor who has worked with the mentally ill for more than 30 years.
  • William Docktor of Missoula, a pharmacy professor at the University of Montana School of Pharmacy. Docktor is also a consultant at Missoula's St. Patrick Hospital pharmacy and an expert in psychiatric medication.

Missoulian State Bureau reporter Jennifer McKee can be reached at 1-800-525-4920 or at jennifer.mckee@lee.net.

 

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