In a state rife with some awful people on both sides of the political aisle, Dr. Herb Conaway ranks as the second worst person on my list (if you don’t know who the first is, than you haven’t been paying attention). Dr. Conaway is a Democratic Assemblyman out of Burlington. He is well educated: undergrad at Princeton, law degree from Rutgers, and a medical degree from Thomas Jefferson. He served as a Captain in the Air Force medical corps for four years. He is clearly smart, hardworking, and has had some valuable experiences. This is what makes his opposition to bills that combat the opiate epidemic and his support of medical marijuana so concerning.
Earlier this week, a devastating article about Dr. Conaway was written by Ken Serrano for the Gannett papers (it was pushed off the front page by the bombings in Seaside and Chelsea). Some highlights:
1) Limiting the amount of opioids a physician can prescribe to seven-day supplies is seen as a way to cut into the heroin and painkiller epidemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention encourages limitations. But a proposed law that won approval in the state Senate hasn’t advanced in the Assembly, where Conaway, the chairman of the Health and Senior Services Committee, stands in the way. A proposed law eventually dies if it isn’t posted by the chairman of a committee for a vote. Conaway told the Asbury Park Press Friday he will not post the seven-day supply bill because it will hurt some patients.
2) From 2006 through 2013, Conaway’s reelection committees were the second biggest beneficiary of contributions to state candidates in New Jersey from the pharmaceutical industry, out of 127 candidates. His campaigned received a total of $41,750.
3) Another anti-abuse bill would require doctors and others prescribing opioids to minors to warn parents about the dangers of addiction and counsel them about alternatives to opioids, amid mounting evidence that those under 25 who have taken prescription opioids are more susceptible to addiction. Last year a different version of the bill that required that all patients being prescribed opioids be advised of their risks. The Senate version, S2366, passed 36 to 1, but the bill died when Conaway refused to post the Assembly version, A3712, in the Assembly health committee.
Back in 2014, the NJ Heroin and Opiate Task Force recommended that the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PMP or PDMP) become mandatory – that is that all doctors must enter opiate prescriptions in a central data base and that both doctors and pharmacists should check patients’ histories before writing and dispensing those opiate painkillers. A voluntary PMP is only used by medical professionals who are responsible and aware of the problem. About 20% of the states have mandated PMPs, and they have shown that doctors prescribe 30% less opiates when they are being monitored. Dr. Conaway has opposed expansion and mandating the PMP every step of the way – he often states that government should not get tell doctors how to do their job.
Dr. Conaway has also blocked parental notification laws about the dangers of opiates. He says that this would “open the door to further legislators governing doctors how to behave.” But there are many instances where doctors are required to inform patients about the risks of medication, surgery or other procedures. Dr. Andrew Kolodny, the Chief Executive Medical Officer Phoenix House, explained Conaway’s behavior thus:
Any efforts that would really be effective at addressing the opioid crisis will generally result in reduced prescribing. The manufacturers of opioid painkillers don’t want to see their prescriptions go down, so they are blocking efforts to promote more cautious use.
I’m just one of many people who are critical of Dr. Conaway, but the general public is unaware because they spend two out of every four years worrying about who is going to be President and little to no time monitoring their state governments. The entire interview with Dr. Kolodny is a good read.
Dr. Conaway is bright and well educated. It’s not that he can’t read scientific studies, look at reports or understand data. He can. His actions to block bills that hurt the bottom line of Big Pharma have brought many people to question his motivations, and they usually arrive at the same conclusion – that he takes money from Big Pharma and it has influenced him in their favor.
I have to take a number of ethics trainings every year at Rutgers, for the Army, at the Governor’s Council and to maintain all of my professional licenses. Over and over, conflicts of interest are explained and how that not only impropriety is bad, but the appearance of impropriety is also a huge concern. I can not say for sure that Dr. Conaway has killed bills that would help curb the opiate epidemic because he has taken thousands and thousands of dollars from Big Pharma, but it sure looks that way.