The Star-Ledger reported over the weekend that a medical publishing company once owned by Republican gubernatorial candidate Jack Ciattarelli was paid almost $12.2 million to produce continuing education materials – funded by pharmaceutical companies – that said the risk of Opioid abuse among patients with chronic pain was low.
Still, it’s not clear if this is the kind of story will have much of an impact on Ciattarelli’s bid to unseat Gov. Phil Murphy in an election that is 36 days away. Here are some takeaways on the story, in a Q&A format.
What’s the story about?
Ciattarelli owned a small 30-employee, Somerville-based company called Galen Publishing, which published a pharmacy-related continuing medical education journal and conducted symposiums under contract with the University of Tennessee College of Pharmacy. A critic called it a marketing tool for pharmaceutical companies who collectively paid Galen $12,1283,983 between 2007 and 2016 – about 92% of the total dollars received.
Among the largely-debunked claims made by doctors and pharmacists who wrote articles for the pharmacy journal were that “the risk of opioid misuse is low among patients with chronic pain who do not have preexisting substance use disorders.” Galen also published a view that “although opioid addiction is often a significant concern to patients and clinicians, studies of patients who are being treated for pain suggest that the risk of opioid abuse is low, especially for individuals who do not have substance use problems before beginning treatment.”
More than 30 pharmaceutical companies, including Oxycodone manufacturer Purdue, were among the funders.
The Murphy campaign called the story “explosive.” Is it?
Probably not, unless the Murphy campaign puts a boatload of money behind TV ads explaining this to voters.
Even the Star-Ledger doesn’t think it was an important enough story to run on the front page of Sunday’s newspaper; instead, it was further back in the Jersey section. Prominent placement on their website only lasted a few hours and by Sunday, it was easier to find a story about a Swiss chocolatier opening a store at the Short Hills Mall on NJ.com.
Ciattarelli’s campaign manager, Eric Arpert, dismissed the impact of the news during an appearance on the New Jersey Globe Power Hour on Talk Radio 77 WABC on Saturday.
“This is a one-day Star-Ledger story behind a paywall,” Arpert said.
Still, someone was smart enough to go to the Star-Ledger’s Ted Sherman to write the story. He’s one of New Jersey’s last standing, old-school investigative reporters and worked on the story for over a month.
What has Ciattarelli said about the opioid crisis as a candidate for governor?
Ciattarelli took a different view of opioids during an August 2021 forum sponsored by Gloucester County Republicans that the ones espoused by experts in the medical journal his company published.
“It is a crisis. Some people are dying every single day,” Ciattarelli said. “We need to make sure that our primary care physicians are competent when it comes to opioid care prescriptions and opioid use.”
Ciattarelli told the GOP group that the state need to crack down on pharmacies “to make sure that people are not somehow, some way abusing the system to get themselves opioid prescriptions, and we just need to continue to talk about the issue.”
He also scolded political leaders for ignoring the opioid crisis during the referendum on legalizing recreational marijuana in New Jersey last year.
“It was also like we were pretending that an opioid crisis did not exist in our community, “ Ciattarelli said. “It does.”
How does this play into the contrast between Jack Ciattarelli, Main Street small businessman, and Phil Murphy, Wall Street mega millionaire?
Well, Ciattarelli’s “small business” wasn’t a teeny mom and pop, at least in the context of the neighborhood restaurant his parents ran in Branchburg while he was growing up. Ciattarelli built his business from scratch, and while it wasn’t a small dry cleaning store, it wasn’t a huge corporation either.
Murphy spent more than 20 years a top executive at Goldman Sachs – he served as president of Goldman Sachs Asia in the 1990s – and he’s embraced his personal wealth as a sort of born-again Wall Street millionaire. Over the last four years, he’s branded himself as the most progressive governor in the nation – including advocacy of a millionaire’s tax that affected him and many of his former finance industry colleagues who still live in New Jersey.
Ciattarelli would welcome a comparison of private sector business records, his campaign manager said.
“Jack had a small business that created jobs for New Jerseyans on Main Street in Somerville. Does Phil Murphy really want to compare his record at Goldman Sachs to that? Arpert asked. “Let’s talk about the sweat shops in China paying people 20 cents an hour to make sneakers. Let’s talk about the relationship the Murphy administration has with the McKinsey consulting firm that paid $600 million in a settlement for their role in creating the opioid crisis and continues to get paid by the Murphy administration.”
Did Ciattarelli know the details of the contract with the University of Tennessee?
Yes. He signed it. But in fairness, he wasn’t that author of the material, simply the publisher.
Will this impact Tuesday’s gubernatorial debate?
That’s up to the panelists. The Star-Ledger’s seat will be occupied by Amanda Hoover, who covers cannabis and sexual harassment issues, and it might be up to her to decide if she thinks her newspaper’s own story is enough of a bombshell to merit asking Ciattarelli about it. Murphy could work the story into the debate, if he wants to.
Are “October Surprises” still a thing?
Not unless they come in September. New Jerseyans have been voting for more than a week – vote-by-mail ballots went to the post office on September 18 – and early in-person voting starts on October 23.