Six pharmaceutical executives who worked for fentanyl company Insys Therapeutics, including a former CEO, were arrested on Thursday and charged with leading a nationwide conspiracy to defraud insurance companies and bribe doctors to prescribe their powerful and addictive opioid painkiller, according to an indictment from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the District of Massachusetts.
Earlier this year, Fusion investigated the company’s questionable tactics in the documentary “Death by Fentanyl.” We reported claims made by a whistleblower that Insys regularly misled insurance companies to believe prospective patients had cancer when they did not.
WATCH FUSION’S STORY ON INSYS HERE:
Thursday’s federal indictment supports these claims, accusing top executives of pushing their fentanyl sublingual spray Subsys to treat conditions it wasn’t approved for.
According to the indictment, one executive texted a sales representative stating,
“I need confirmation from YOU that you had a conversation with the practitioner where he will not ONLY promote for cancer patients… If he does this he will single handedly take down the whole company.”
The executives also allegedly cultivated relationships with doctors who had disreputable prescribing histories. After one sales rep referred to a doctor’s office as a “very shady pill mill” in an email, the indictment claims that an Insys employee targeted the doctor who ran it and that he subsequently became one of the top prescribers of Subsys.
In order to get doctors to prescribe more fentanyl, the indictment says, Insys executives gave them thinly disguised kickbacks. One of the preferred methods for this was to bring them in to supposedly give paid speeches about their products with other healthcare professionals. But many of the events had no attendees, and sales representatives routinely falsified names of guests, the government claims.
When one of the company’s top prescribing doctors stopped prescribing as much of the potent opioid, one top executive emailed another saying, “we cannot go a single day without a prescription from … [the doctor]. I do not want to hear excuses, we pay good money here,” the court records indicate.
Earlier this year, a handful of other former lower-level Insys employees were indicted for similar practices. But Thursday’s arrests hit the top ranks of the company, which has seen a dramatic fall in its fortunes.
In 2013, Insys became a Wall Street darling when, after its IPO, its share price soared and it became one of the top performing stocks of the year. The company’s founder, John Kapoor, landed on Forbes billionaire’s list.
Within hours of the news of the indictment, Insys’s stock dropped 16 points to a new 52-week low.
Late Thursday, Insys Therapeutics released a statement regarding the indictment, saying “the charges against individuals discussed in the DOJ press release relate to previously disclosed investigations” and that the company “continues to cooperate with all relevant authorities in its ongoing investigations and is committed to complying with laws and regulations that govern our products and business practices.”
Coincidentally, new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also came out on Thursday showing that deaths by synthetic opioids like fentanyl rose by nearly 75 percent from 2014 to 2015. While many of these deaths were likely the result of illicit fentanyl as opposed to pharmaceutical fentanyl, Insys’s alleged role has not escaped law enforcement.
In a statement, Harold H. Shaw, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Boston office said the executive’s’ actions had “contributed to the growing opioid epidemic and placed profit before patient safety.”
Watch Fusion’s documentary “Death by Fentanyl” here.