Three years ago I wrote this column: My Challenge to Medical Device and Drug Companies: Put Me Out of Business! The point was straightforward: if companies would do the right thing, and properly test their medical devices, and carefully monitor the drugs they sell, and try to help patients instead of merely chasing profits, then I will stop being a product liability lawyer. Well, turns out my line of work may be safe for a long time. This week several executives from Insys Therapeutics were found guilty of racketeering. The jury found that these executives conspired to push sales of a deadly fentanyl drug, by increasing dosages and prescriptions. These guys are going to jail. And they should. The story that emerged from the two-month trial was hideous, and it proves yet again that without careful oversight companies will often harm public health in their pursuit of massive profits.
Before I bullet point some of the evidence developed at trial, start with this: the Centers for Disease Control estimates that well over 200,000 people have died from prescription opioids since 1996. Sit with that for a moment. More than 200,000 people have died from opioid overdoses. It is heart-wrenching. Now, add to this tragic statistic the narrative that several opioid companies, and not just Insys Therapeutics, pushed for more prescriptions and higher doses for decades, solely to increase sales and profits and employee bonuses.
Let’s take a look at the evidence from the Insys criminal trial:
- Insys pushed an aggressive marketing scheme for its sales representatives.
- Insys paid doctors for speeches they never gave; instead these doctors were getting paid for prescribing Insys’ fentanyl-spray, “Subsys.”
- Doctors were also enticed to prescribe more opioids with other perks, like lap dances. (Classy.)
- Insys hired a stripper, Sunrise Lee, to serve as a sales rep for the company. One witness testified that Ms. Lee gave a doctor a lap dance as part of her sales work for Insys. (Ms. Lee was eventually promoted to regional sales director.)
- Insys executives pushed doctors to prescribe opioids to patients for whom the fentanyl-spray was not intended.
- Sales representatives testified that their bonuses were tied directly to the dosages the doctors in their sales territory prescribed. The higher the dose, the more money the sales rep would make. (Why? Because a higher dose would almost ensure addiction and thus more sales.)
- Sales reps had to report to their bosses within twenty-four hours if one of their doctors prescribed a low dose.
- Insys purposely directed its marketing efforts to doctors with a history of prescribing large amounts of opioids.
- Insys pursued doctors and medical providers who were considered “pill mills.”
- Insys also pushed insurance companies to cover the cost of the drug for the patients they insured. These costs often reached thousands of dollars per month for a single patient.
- In 2015, two jackasses who worked for Insys produced a rap video cheerleading for increased sales of the fentanyl product. (The US Department of Health and Human Services estimated that in 2015, 12.5 million people abused prescription opioids, causing over 33,000 deaths.)
- Insys generated annual sales of $300,000,000.00.
Insys is not the only bad actor. Not even close. Investigations are underway against the Sackler family, founders of Purdue Pharma, makers of Oxycontin, and private doctors have been criminally charged with taking kickbacks from opioid manufacturers. There is no doubt that more criminal prosecutions and thousands of civil lawsuits will occur in the coming months and years. The opioid epidemic has been a massive failure of the American people, and corporate greed is at the center of it all.
Opioids are synthetic forms of opiates. Opioids are manufactured chemicals that operate in a similar way to opiates like morphine. Opioid products include OxyContin, Vicodin (hydrocodone), and Fentanyl. While temporarily effective at relieving pain, opioids can be extremely addictive and often lead to overdoses and deaths.
If you or a family member has been a victim of opioids, you are welcome to call me to discuss: 919.546.8788. Either way, good luck.
Note: Information in this post came from several news sources, including NPR, The New York Times, other newspapers, and my previous posts.