Drug Company Pays Out Million-Dollar Settlement for Marketing Powerful Painkiller

By Zachary Siegel 08/14/15

Amid an epidemic of opiate use, drug companies still peddle their legal opioids for profit.

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A $1.1 million settlement was reached that resolves pharmaceutical company Insys Therapeutics of allegations for their role in aggressively marketing a fentanyl-based narcotic pain reliever in the state of Oregon.

The opioid painkiller in question is called Subsys, an under-the-tongue spray which is rapidly absorbed in the bloodstream that was approved by the FDA to treat breakthrough cancer pain (BTCP). Because fentanyl is incredibly powerful, the FDA was clear that only oncologists or pain specialists may prescribe the drug to patients who are already on round-the-clock painkillers.

Insys Therapeutics was accused of aggressively marketing Subsys for non-cancer pain.

“Subsys is a very powerful narcotic that has been approved for only a very specific and narrow use,” said Attorney General Rosenblum in a press release. “Schedule II drugs have a very high potential for abuse and addiction, and it is unconscionable that a company would promote such a powerful drug for off-label uses as well as misrepresent to doctors the benefits of the drug.”

Rosenblum, who spearheaded the suit on behalf of Oregon, resolved allegations that Insys was involved in issuing kickbacks to doctors who prescribed Subsys. The company was also suspected of aggressively promoting the narcotic to treat non-cancer pain like headaches and neck pain to doctors who were unqualified to prescribe the drug.

Part of the settlement requires Insys to pay $533,000 to the state of Oregon. On top of that sum, an additional $567,000 will be paid to a non-profit organization identified to help prevent opioid abuse.

In addition to the Insys settlement, Rosenblum announced a $2.1 million grant to the National Association of Attorneys General to attenuate the problem of opioid abuse in the state of Oregon.

This isn’t the first time Insys has been suspected of deceptive marketing tactics. Last year, the New York Times reported a doctor and his nurse in Connecticut were given over $83,000 in kickbacks to prescribe Subsys for non-cancer related pain.

Insys now joins the ranks of several other pharmaceutical who have put patients at risk for addiction in order to profit.

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Zachary Siegel is a freelance journalist specializing in science, health and drug policy. His reporting has also appeared in Slate, The Daily Beast, Salon, Huffington Post, among others. He writes often about addiction, sometimes drawing from his own experience. You can find out more about Zachary on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.