Insys Execs Found Guilty Of Bribing Doctors To Prescribe Fentanyl Spray

By Kelly Burch 05/08/19

This is the first-ever successful prosecution of a drug company exec tied to the opioid crisis.

judge announcing guilty verdict for insys execs

Five former executives of the opioid maker Insys Therapeutics were found guilty of federal racketeering charges last week.

The criminal charges were brought by federal prosecutors in the state of Massachusetts and stem from allegations that the company bribed doctors to prescribe Subsys, a fentanyl nasal spray.

“Just as we would street-level drug dealers, we will hold pharmaceutical executives responsible for fueling the opioid epidemic by recklessly and illegally distributing these drugs, especially while conspiring to commit racketeering along the way,” Andrew E. Lelling, the U.S. attorney who tried the case, told The New York Times.

The verdict came after a lengthy legal battle: the trial lasted 10 weeks, and the jury deliberated for 15 days. During that time, sometimes shocking allegations came to light, including that one Insys sales executive who had previously worked as an erotic dancer gave a lap dance to a doctor who was selling Subsys. 

On other occasions the company paid for doctors to go to shooting ranges and visit VIP rooms of strip clubs, according to Vice. Insys also paid high "speaking fees" to the doctors who prescribed the most Subsys, and invited them to lavish dinners. 

“They were a farce really,” Gavin Awerbuch, a doctor convicted of distributing Subsys illegally. 

Yale law professor Abbe Gluck said that the case highlights the extreme lengths that companies would go to to sell opioids. 

“The case paints a picture of the kind of troubling industry practices that helped fuel the opioid epidemic,” Gluck said, adding that the verdict “shows that a jury is willing to punish for them.” 

In addition to unscrupulous sales practices, the company also misled insurance agents in order to get prescriptions covered, even though Subsys was only officially supposed to be used for cancer patients. 

“Insurers were told about medical things that never happened. They told deception after deception after deception on recorded lines,” prosecutor K. Nathaniel Yeager said during the trial. 

The company even produced a rap video that was used to promote Subsys. In it, a rapper mentions titrations, the process of putting patients on a higher and higher dose of a medication. 

“I love titrations, yeah, that’s not a problem, and I got new patients, yeah, I got a lot of ‘em,” the rapper says in a parody of A$AP Rocky's 2012 single "F—in Problems.”

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.