Insys Therapeutics Inc.’s founder and four of its executives stooped to new lows to entice doctors to prescribe their pricey opioid spray Subsys, treating them to lavish dinners, putting them on its payroll, and even giving one top prescriber of the drug a lap dance, Assistant U.S. Attorney David G. Lazarus told a federal jury in Boston in the trial of former Insys chairman and founder John Kapoor.
Kapoor, along with other company executives, is facing charges of using bribes and kickbacks to increase sales of Subsys, a highly addictive spray version of the opioid fentanyl.
“This is a case about greed, about greed and its consequences, the consequences of putting profits over people,” Lazarus told the jury. In doing so, Kapoor turned his company “into a criminal enterprise, by illegally bribing doctors to prescribe this highly addictive and dangerous fentanyl spray and by conning insurance companies into paying for it,” he argued.
Kapoor’s co-defendants include company executives Michael Gurry, Richard Simon, Joseph Rowan, and Sunrise Lee.
Kapoor’s attorney, during her opening statements, turned the tables on the jury, saying that Kapoor did want his company to be successful and for Subsys sales to thrive because he had watched his own wife suffer from excruciating pain from breast cancer, which ultimately took her life in 2005.
Subsys is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat breakthrough pain in cancer patients who are already receiving and are tolerant to opioid therapy for their underlying persistent pain. However, Lazarus claimed that Insys executives had a mantra “pain is pain” and encouraged doctors to prescribe the drug for other conditions like back pain.
Company executives also conned insurance companies into paying for prescriptions by having Insys employees lie to insurance companies about what ailment the drug was being prescribed for, the suit alleges.
Furthermore, the company hired Sunrise Lee, a former exotic dancer with no previous experience in pharmaceuticals, who, Lazarus claims, gave one “pill mill” doctor a lap dance. “She did whatever she could,” he said. Lee’s attorney argued that whether she performed the lap dance or not was not at issue because it wasn’t part of any quid pro quo.
In August, Insys announced that it would pay at least $150 million to settle claims by the U.S. Department of Justice. Several doctors and physicians’ assistants have either pled guilty or been convicted.