Drug Company Execs and Found Guilty in Conspiracy That Fed Opioid Crisis

The founder of drug company Insys Therapeutics yesterday became the top drugmaker executive in the country go be convicted in a case that is related to the US opioid crisis. He and four other top executives were found guilty of offering bribes to doctors to prescribe addictive painkillers to drive the opioid epidemic and make more profits for shareholder. (Yahoo.com)

The verdict suggests there is a stronger effort to hold pharmaceutical and drug companies and their executives accountable in ways that are more in line with the devastation that has occurred in the prescription opioid crisis. More than 200k people have overdosed on the drugs in the US in the last 20 years.

Rochester Drug Cooperative Also Caught Up in Opioid Sting

In a related story, federal authorities in April for the first time filed drug trafficking charges, a felony, against a large pharmaceutical distributor, Rochester Drug Cooperative, as well as two ex-executives. They were accused of shipping tens of millions of oxycodone pills and fentanyl patches to pharmacies that issued the drugs illegally. (NYT.com)

According to a federal jury in Boston, John Kapoor, 75, the former chairman of Insys, and his co-defendants are guilty of racketeering conspiracy for a scheme that caused insurers to mistakenly pay for the drugs.

The 2017 arrest of Kapoor came on the same day that President Donald Trump reported in the media that the drug epidemic has caused tens of thousands of drug overdose deaths each year, and this makes it a public health emergency.

Kapoor has been found guilty of running a broad illegal drug scheme to bribe physicians around to the country, retaining them as speakers at phony events at restaurants to supposedly educate doctors about the fentanyl spray Subsys.

But federal prosecutors also said Kapoor made efforts to defraud insurance companies into paying for the drug. Co-defendants in the case include ex-Insys executives and managers Michael Gurry, Richard Simon, Sunrise Lee and Joseph Rowan.

Each man faces up to 20 years in federal prison. Each have denied any wrongdoing. Defense lawyers said the plan to appeal.

According to his defense attorney Beth Wilkinson, Kapoor is greatly disappointed with the verdict. A month of jury deliberations confirm this was not a really open and shut case.

FDA approved the drug in 2012 but only for use in treating the most severe cancer pain. But prosecutors are claiming doctors took bribes and often prescribed Subsys to patients who do not have cancer. This allegedly to help boost sales for Insys, based in Chandler, Arizona.

Fentanyl is a very dangerous opioid with a strength 100 times that of morphine.

Kapoor’s attorneys concede that he paid doctors, but said he thought they were being paid on a legal basis to discuss the benefits of the fentanyl drug.

The federal prosecutor in her opening statement in early January informed jurors that Kapoor did not know about any side deals that were being made with doctors. She noted a former exec turned informant, Alec Burlakoff, did not tell Kapoor about the arrangements.

Burlakoff and Michael Babich, the former chief executive, both provided testimony against Kapoor after he pleaded guilty to participating in the conspiracy.

During the trial, jurors watched a rap video that the pharmaceutical company produced for sales staff that described its strategies that had Burlakoff dressed like a bottle of Subsys that was dancing.

Witnesses also said that Lee, who was an ex-stripper but become the regional sales director for Insys, performed a lap dance for a physician at a club in Chicago while encouraging him to prescribe the potent drug.

Massachusetts and New York State Attorneys Getting Involved, Too

And in Massachusetts and New York state attorneys general have not only sued Purdue Pharma, which makes Oxycontin, but also individual members of the Sackler family who are primary owners of the company. They have mostly skirted personal legal penalties for the role of the company in the opioid epidemic.

$37 Million Settlement Against McKesson

Also, this week, the West Virginia government reached a settlement of $37 million in a lawsuit against the McKesson Corporation, which is one of the top drug distributors in the country. It was accused of shipping almost 100 million doses of opioids to residents over a 60 month period.

Experts believe the verdict against Insys could encourage other prosecutions at the corporate level, and said it showed that the public is more willing to give penalties to higher level executives at companies that are making a lot of profits from the most highly addictive painkillers.

According to Andrew E. Lelling, the US attorney in Massachusetts on the case, just as his office would go after street level dealers, he intends to hold accountable pharmaceutical execs who are fueling the opioid epidemic by illegally and recklessly distributing the highly addictive drugs.

Abbe Gluck, a law professor at Yale, this case shows a picture of highly troubling industry practices that are helping to fuel the opioid epidemic across the country. This verdict shows juries are willing to punish them with tough sentences.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, opioids, which include drugs that range from heroin to legal painkillers, were related to nearly 48,000 fatalities in 2017. The epidemic began with painkillers that were prescribed legally, such as Oxycontin and Percocet. It got much worse when these drugs were dealt on the black market. There also has been a major rise in illegal opioid use such as heroin, while many drugs on the street contained potent opioids, including fentanyl, which can greatly increase the risk of death. (BBC.com)

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