Drug Salesmen Arrested For Bribing Doctors To Prescribe Fentanyl Spray

By Paul Gaita 06/16/16

The Big Pharma salesmen paid two New York-based doctors hundreds of thousands of dollars to prescribe sizable amounts of fentanyl spray. 

vDrug Salesmen Arrested For Bribing Doctors To Prescribe Fentanyl Spray

Federal prosecutors announced last week that two employees from a pharmaceutical company have been arrested and charged with participating in a scheme to pay doctors to speak at events to promote its fentanyl-based spray.

Jonathan Roper and Fernando Serrano—who respectively served as a district manager and sales representative at an unnamed drug company ("Pharma Company-1")—were arrested by FBI agents on June 9 and charged with violating the federal Anti-Kickback Statute, which prohibits the exchange of anything of value while trying to induce or reward the referral of any federal health care program business.

The charges stated that Roper and Serrano recruited health care professionals to give presentations at "Speaker Programs" designed to educate other doctors about Pharma Company-1’s fentanyl-based sublingual spray. Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid used to treat breakthrough pain in cancer patients, is approximately 100 times more potent than morphine, and is responsible for hundreds of overdose deaths throughout North America.

Both individuals paid two Manhattan, New York-based doctors hundreds of thousands of dollars to speak at events that, while proposed as “educational presentations,” were predominantly social events with no educational content about the fentanyl spray. In some cases, the attendees were not even health care professionals, but people recruited to fill seats while Roper and Serrano forged the names of doctors who were not present on the sign-in sheets. In exchange for the speaking payments, the two Manhattan doctors prescribed more than $5 million worth of Pharma Company-1’s fentanyl spray—making them two of the most sizable prescribers of the fentanyl spray in the United States. Medicare also reimbursed over $1 million of those prescriptions. 

Federal prosecutors also noted that Roper explicitly pressed his sales staff to aggressively push doctors to participate in their Speaker Programs in order to prescribe large quantities of the spray. In an email to several sales representatives, Roper vented about doctors who had been hired but had yet to meet company requirements for prescriptions: “Where is the ROI (Return on Investment)??!!! We invest a lot of time, $, blood, sweat and tears on ‘our guys’ and help spreading the word on treating breakthrough cancer pain. We hire only the best of the best to be apart [sic] of our speaker bureau and dropping script counts is what we get in return?”

Further investigation showed that Roper ordered a sales rep to cut back the number of speaking engagements for one doctor due to the low number of prescriptions generated by that individual, while also pressing the same rep to offer cash to another medical professional in order to get them to prescribe more of the spray.

Roper and Serrano are each charged with one count of conspiracy to violate the Anti-Kickback Statute and one count of violating the Anti-Kickback Statute. Each count carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

In a statement issued after the arrests, FBI Assistant Director Diego Rodriguez said, “This case should be something the medical industry and the general public should pay close attention to, because it’s one of the reasons we’re experiencing an epidemic of overdoses and deaths in this country. Not only did the defendants in this case allegedly bully sales reps into pushing this highly addictive drug, they paid doctors to prescribe it to patients. Instead of seeing a way to help people who are dealing with extreme pain, they allegedly saw a huge payday that potentially put people’s lives in danger."

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, Amazon.com and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.