Insys Execs Used Rap Video To Push Higher Doses Of Fentanyl Spray

By Paul Gaita 02/18/19

The sales video parodied A$AP Rocky's hit single "F—in' Problems."

Image: 
man performing in rap video by drug company to push fentanyl spray sales

Jurors for a racketeering, fraud and conspiracy trial in Boston involving former Insys Therapeutics CEO John Kapoor were shown a sales video made by the pharmaceutical manufacturer in which company employees rap about increasing prescription dosages and dance with a person dressed as a bottle of the company's powerful fentanyl spray, Subsys.

Kapoor and four other former Insys managers and executives are accused of conspiring to pay doctors to prescribe Subsys, a fentanyl-based medication intended for use by cancer patients with severe pain. Kapoor and the other defendants have denied the charges.

In the video, a parody of A$AP Rocky's 2012 single "F—in Problems" which prosecutors say was shown during a national sales meeting in 2015, salesmen and other individuals rap about "titration," a process by which employees persuade medical professionals to increase the strength of a prescription until their patients reach a certain dosage.

At one point in the video, the person dressed as a Subsys bottle—which is notated with 1,600 micrograms, its highest dosage—is reportedly revealed to be Insys' then-vice president of sales, Alec Burlakoff.  

In November 2018, Burlakoff pled guilty to a charge of racketeering conspiracy, and according to NBC News, is expected to cooperate with prosecutors in the case against Kapoor.

Another former Insys executive, ex-CEO Michael Babich, testified during the current trial that Kapoor encouraged employees to push for high dosages of Subsys so they would continue taking the drug.

Attorneys for Kapoor claimed that Burlakoff was the architect of the kickback scheme, which according to CBS News, handed out more than $2 million to 18,000 doctors in 2016 alone.

Kapoor's lawyers also alleged that Burlakoff and Babich sought to reduce their sentences by providing false testimony against Kapoor, and claimed that Subsys represents only a fraction of prescription opioid use, though prosecutors have tried to link Insys to the national opioid crisis.

Prosecutors, however, claim that Kapoor personally recruited physicians through expensive dinners and high-payment speaking engagements in order to ensure their commitment to prescribing higher dosages of Subsys. Kapoor, who resigned from Insys' board of directors in 2017 after being arrested, along with Burlakoff, for their role in the kickback scheme on the same day that President Donald Trump declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency.

Subsys, which is reportedly 100 times stronger than morphine, has allegedly played a role in hundreds of overdose deaths since the Food and Drug Administration approved it for use as cancer treatment for breakthrough pain in 2012.

The drug, which helped to make Insys the best performing public offering in 2013, is now one of several opioid-related assets for which Insys Therapeutics., is currently seeking a buyer.

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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. 

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