Monday December 16, 2019

Founder of Drug Company Convicts in Case Tied to US Opioid Crisis

Kapoor’s 2017 arrest came on the same day U.S. President Donald Trump declared the epidemic that has caused tens of thousands of overdose deaths annually a public health emergency

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FILE - John Kapoor, the billionaire founder of Insys Therapeutics Inc., leaves the federal courthouse in Boston, March 13, 2019. VOA

The founder of Insys Therapeutics Inc. on Thursday became the highest-ranking pharmaceutical executive to be convicted in a case tied to the U.S. opioid crisis, when he and four colleagues were found guilty of participating in a scheme to bribe doctors to prescribe an addictive painkiller.

A federal jury in Boston found John Kapoor, the drugmaker’s former chairman, and his co-defendants guilty of racketeering conspiracy for engaging in a scheme that also misled insurers into paying for the drug.

Kapoor’s 2017 arrest came on the same day U.S. President Donald Trump declared the epidemic that has caused tens of thousands of overdose deaths annually a public health emergency.

Wide-ranging scheme to bribe doctors

Kapoor, 76, was found guilty of running a wide-ranging scheme to bribe doctors nationwide by retaining them to act as speakers at sham events at restaurants ostensibly meant to educate clinicians about its fentanyl spray, Subsys.

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Laura Levine prepares to dispense drugs at Vocal NY, an organization that works with addicts, where she is the health educator and coordinator for the opioid reversal drug Narcan, in the Brooklyn borough of New York, March 15, 2019. VOA

Prosecutors said Kapoor also directed efforts to defraud insurers who were reluctant to pay for Subsys. His co-defendants were former Insys executives and managers Michael Gurry, Richard Simon, Sunrise Lee and Joseph Rowan. They face up to 20 years in prison. They denied wrongdoing, and defense lawyers signaled plans to appeal.

“Dr. Kapoor is disappointed in the verdict, as are we,” Beth Wilkinson, Kapoor’s lead attorney, said in a statement. “Four weeks of jury deliberations confirm that this was far from an open-and-shut case.”

Approved for cancer pain

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Subsys in 2012 only for use in treating severe cancer pain. Yet prosecutors claimed doctors who took bribes often prescribed Subsys to patients without cancer, helping boost sales for Chandler, Arizona-based Insys.

Fentanyl is an especially potent opioid, 100 times stronger than morphine. Kapoor’s lawyers acknowledged Insys paid doctors but contended he believed they were being legally paid to discuss Subsys’ benefits.

Wilkinson in her opening statement in January told jurors Kapoor had no knowledge of “side deals” being cut with doctors. She said a former executive turned government witness, Alec Burlakoff, kept Kapoor in the dark about them.

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FILE – Syringes filled with the opioid painkiller fentanyl are shown in an inpatient pharmacy, June 1, 2018. VOA

Burlakoff, Insys’ ex-vice president of sales, and Michael Babich, its former chief executive, testified against Kapoor after pleading guilty to participating in the scheme.

Rap video, lap dance

Jurors during the trial watched a rap video Insys produced for its sales staff describing its strategies to boost sales that starred Burlakoff dressed as a dancing bottle of Subsys.

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Witnesses also testified that Lee, an ex-stripper turned Insys regional sales director, gave a lap dance to a doctor at a Chicago club while pushing him to prescribe Subsys.

Insys in August said it had agreed to pay at least $150 million in a related settlement with the U.S. Justice Department. In a statement Thursday, it said the case involved “the actions of a select few former employees.” (VOA)

Next Story

Drug Companies Reach $215 Million Settlement to Avoid Trial over their Role in Deadly Opioid Addiction Crisis

The case has been viewed as a harbinger for similar lawsuits filed by more than 2,700 local and state governments across the country in hopes

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Summit county executive Ilene Shapiro speaks to the media outside the U.S. Federal courthouse, Oct. 21, 2019, in Cleveland. VOA

A major pharmaceutical company and three of the biggest drug distributors in the U.S. have reached a $260 million settlement with two counties in Ohio to avoid a trial over their role in the deadly opioid addiction crisis gripping America.

The deal, struck Monday, came just hours before the opening arguments in a court in Cleveland, Ohio. The case has been viewed as a harbinger for similar lawsuits filed by more than  2,700 local and state governments across the country in hopes of recouping damages from the crisis.

Drug distributors McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen will pay $215 million in reparations. Israeli drug manufacturer Teva will pay $20 million in cash and also contribute $25 million worth of Suboxone, used to treat opioid addiction.

“People can’t lose sight of the fact that the counties got a very good deal for themselves, but we also set an important national benchmark for the others,” said Hunter Shkolnik, a lawyer for Cuyahoga County.

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The deal, struck Monday, came just hours before the opening arguments in a court in Cleveland, Ohio. Pixabay

Cuyahoga and Summit counties had brought the lawsuit that accused the four companies of fueling a nationwide opioid crisis.

According to U.S. government data, opioids have led to some 400,000 overdose deaths between 1997 and 2017.

Lawyers say the settlement will provide local governments with the finances needed to establish opioid-recovery programs.

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Attempts to reach a nationwide settlement broke down last week after cities and counties suing the drug companies rejected an offer of $48 billion in cash, treatment drugs and services. (VOA)