Five Doctors Accused Of Taking Kickbacks To Promote Fentanyl Spray

By Paul Gaita 03/19/18

An indictment alleged that Insys used its speakers' program to "induce a select group of practitioners" to prescribe Subsys to their patients.

a handcuffed doctor in blue scrubs

Federal prosecutors indicted five New York City doctors for allegedly participating in a bribery and kickback scheme to prescribe millions of dollars' worth of Subsys, a fentanyl painkiller manufactured by Insys.

The quintet of doctors named in the indictment were arrested on the same day of its release (March 16) and pled not guilty in Manhattan federal court to the aforementioned charges, which include violation of the federal anti-kickback law and conspiracy to commit fraud.

The indictment alleged that Insys paid the doctors thousands, and in some cases, hundreds of thousands of dollars, to prescribe Subsys, and funneled the money to them as fees for their participation in a faux speakers' program.

Geoffrey S. Berman, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced the charges at a press conference, where he was joined by William F. Sweeney Jr., the head of the FBI's New York Office.

The five doctors named in the indictment—Gordon Freedman, Jeffrey Goldstein, Todd Schlifstein, Dialecti Voudouris and Alexandru Burducea—were all released on $200,000 bond after entering their not guilty pleas last Friday. 

"These prominent doctors swore a solemn oath to place their patients' care above all else," said Berman. "Instead, they engaged in a malignant scheme to prescribe fentanyl, a dangerous and potentially fatal narcotic 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, in exchange for bribes in the form of speaker fees."

Berman's office also noted that two former Insys employees—Jonathan Roper and Fernando Serrano, who had initially pled not guilty to anti-kickback charges in 2016—had changed their pleas to guilty, and were cooperating with the federal investigation.

As the New York Times noted, the indictment alleged that Insys had used its speakers' program to "induce a select group of practitioners"—including the five doctors facing charges—to prescribe substantial numbers of Subsys to their patients.

These "top docs," as the company reportedly referred to them, were promoted as speakers at Insys engagements, though these events were reportedly more based around social interaction than education about products. The indictment claimed that attendance sign-in sheets for these speaking engagements included the names of medical professionals who did not actually attend the events. 

Insys kept strict tabs on its speakers, tracking their statistics, and on one occasion, reminded them about "one simple guideline": writing prescriptions. If they did not, the money for speaking engagements would end. The indictment quoted a district sales manager who, in writing to sales representatives, told them to remind the speakers: "NO SCRIPTS. NO PROGRAMS."

The indictment is the latest round of charges brought against Insys, its executives and employees, as well as medical professionals connected to the manufacturer.

In addition to the charges against Roper and Serrano, the company's chief executive, John Kapoor, pled not guilty to bribery charges, while Rhode Island-based doctor Jerrold Rosenberg was sentenced to more than four years in prison for accepting kickbacks from Insys for prescribing Subsys.

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