Conway's last press conference as attorney general focuses on "centerpiece" of public office, political platform

12/24/2015 12:31 PM

FRANKFORT — Attorney General Jack Conway approached the podium for what will likely be his final press conference with a couple dozen staffers and a handful of media on Wednesday, wishing those gathered in the attorney general’s conference room a merry Christmas and a blessed 2016 as he closes the book on eight years in office.

Conway’s preparing for a new career path out of the public light, but if he had his druthers, the Democrat would be gearing up for the upcoming budget-writing session from another office in the Capitol.

Instead, Republican Gov. Matt Bevin is working with his staff to craft a biennial spending plan that he’ll present to the General Assembly early next year, starting with a Jan. 26 State of the Commonwealth Budget Address to Kentucky’s 138 lawmakers.

“It might be with a law firm, I might start my own law firm, I might do something entrepreneurial, who knows, but sometime in the early part of 2016 I’ll let the people of Kentucky know what I’m doing,” Conway said Wednesday of his upcoming career plans.

Bevin topped Conway by nearly 9 points on Nov. 3, handing the Democrat another stinging loss for his political résumé after spending more than twice as much as the GOP nominee in the general election.

Conway’s first run for public office in Louisville’s 3rd Congressional District ended in a narrow 3 percent defeat at the hands of the incumbent, former U.S. Rep. Anne Northup, in 2002 before a 21-point win for his first term as attorney general in 2007. Conway clipped former Lt. Gov. Dan Mongiardo for the Democratic U.S. Senate nomination in 2010 before an 11-point loss to a political newcomer in U.S. Sen. Rand Paul. Despite the lopsided defeat the year prior, Conway won a second term by 10 percent of the vote in 2011.

Conway will end his eight years as attorney general, in part, by settling a major case involving one of the cornerstones of his gubernatorial campaign: prescription drug abuse.

In fact, part of his press conference sounded similar to speeches Conway made from the gubernatorial stump. He praised his office’s Cyber Crimes Unit work in removing more than a million pornographic images and videos of children from the Internet, the Medicaid Fraud Unit’s $300 million in civil collections, and efforts to craft prescription drug reforms enacted in 2012 that has helped his office shutter about half the state’s pain clinics since, among other achievements.

“I’m very proud of what we’ve accomplished during my eight years as your attorney general,” Conway said. “I have several staff members here in the office with me today. They did most of the work and I took most of the credit, and I had a wonderful, wonderful staff.”

The $24 million settlement with Purdue Pharma, maker of the opiate painkiller OxyContin, for misrepresenting the addictive nature of the prescription narcotic began under House Speaker Greg Stumbo in October 2007 after the rapid rise of the drug dubbed “hillbilly heroin.” Purdue Pharma denied any wrongdoing as part of the settlement.

Stumbo, in an interview with Pure Politics on Wednesday, said his office theorized that the trafficking and abuse of OxyContin wreaked billions of dollars in damages throughout Kentucky, particularly in Appalachia.

But Conway said the state decided to settle the case for $24 million in fear that favorable judgments would be overturned on appeal, citing standards that required attorneys to demonstrate particular instances in which Purdue Pharma marketed to individual doctors who them prescribed OxyContin to patients who got addicted to the narcotic and the costs associated with individual patient’s addiction.

Conway noted that once legal fees are paid, the remainder of the $24 million OxyContin settlement will be sent to the legislature to fund addiction treatment services. He estimated around $20 million of the settlement would go toward that effort, and he expressed his hope that a similar arrangement would be used in a separate $15.5 million settlement with makers of the anti-psychotic drug Risperdal.

Conway alluded to previous pharmaceutical settlements totaling $32 million announced in January 2014 when asked about how he would like to see funds from the OxyContin agreement invested in addiction services. Of that amount, $19 million funded grants through the Substance Abuse Treatment Advisory Committee created by then-Gov. Steve Beshear, wherein applicants had to demonstrate sustainable, long-term plans to address youth addiction in order to receive grant money.

“We knew we needed more adolescent and juvenile beds, but what we said was, ‘OK, give us a plan, but show us that that’s sustainable,’” said Conway, who chaired the advisory panel. “… My hope would be that as this money’s appropriated, if it’s appropriated for additional build-out of beds, that it’s done so in a way that’s sustainable because funding streams have been identified to support those beds.”

Conway’s focus on his office’s drug intervention efforts during his latest foray in high-profile politics shouldn’t be surprising. He called drug policy, “Something I’ve tried to make a centerpiece of my tenure as attorney general.”

House Bill 1, passed during a 2012 special session, allowed the attorney general’s office to target doctors who overprescribe narcotic drugs, he said, noting that more physicians are using the Kentucky All Schedule Prescription Electronic Reporting system before writing prescriptions thanks to the legislation.

“For the first time in a generation we’re seeing prescriptions for OxyContin and hydrocodone going down,” he said. “We’re seeing now, before the reforms a couple years ago about 20 to 25 percent of our doctors were doing KASPER checks before prescribing opioids. Now KASPER checks are up four or five hundred percent.”

“We were the first or second state to require these mandatory checks by doctors before prescribing opioids, so it is significant,” he continued.

Despite his office’s accomplishments, don’t expect Conway to try to parlay that success into higher political office in the near future.

Any role he plays in Kentucky politics once Democratic Attorney General-elect Andy Beshear takes office Jan. 4 will be out of the limelight, he said.

“I have no plans to run for any office anytime soon, I can tell you that,” Conway said.


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