Drug company Insys Therapeutics bribed doctors to prescribe its powerful fentanyl spray Subsys for conditions in which it was not approved, allegedly costing the federal government millions of dollars, according to a complaint filed by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and six states.
The whistleblower litigation involves allegations that Insys used deceptive practices to market its cancer pain treatment, including funneling money to doctors and nurse practitioners through fake speaking events in exchange for them writing prescriptions; finding jobs for family and friends of those who prescribed the drug; and funding strip club visits.
Numerous Insys sales representatives have pleaded guilty, and others have left the company but face charges. Subsys contains the potent and highly addictive opioid painkiller fentanyl. It is only approved to treat breakthrough pain in cancer patients already on round-the-clock opioid treatment. Insys is accused of pushing doctors and nurse practitioners into prescribing the drug for other uses including chronic back pain.
The states joining the Department of Justice in the lawsuit include California, New York, North Carolina, Virginia, Indiana, and Colorado. They claim that Medicare has paid tens of millions of dollars for off-label prescriptions of Subsys as a result of the bribes.
Insys said it expects to pay a minimum of $150 million in liability over the next five years as it continues to work with the Department of Justice on the investigation.
“Improper financial relationships between physicians and drug companies can distort a physicians’ best judgment for their patients,” said DOJ Civil Division Acting Assistant AG Chad Readler, in a statement. “This is especially troubling when the drugs are opioids.”