Saturday May 25, 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.

ALSO READ: About 150 Scientists Meet to Work on Current State of Global Biodiversity

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

Children of Opioid Users have High Risk of Attempting Suicide: Study

Another study found that among girls age 10 to 14 the suicide rate rose by 12.7% per year after 2007

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Family and friends who have lost loved ones to OxyContin and opioid overdoses leave pill bottles in protest outside the headquarters of Purdue Pharma, which is owned by the Sackler family, in Stamford, Conn., Aug. 17, 2018. VOA

The U.S. opioid crisis is taking a toll on children of users as a study published on Wednesday showed they were more likely to attempt suicide.

The study in JAMA Psychiatry published by the American Medical Association found children whose parents were prescribed opioids were twice as likely to attempt suicide as the offspring of people who did not use those drugs.

The latest study from researchers at the University of Chicago and the University of Pittsburgh is the first research attempting to tie rising suicides among U.S. children to the opioid crisis.

“I think that it’s obvious in many ways; it’s just that we were able to put it together and prove it,” said Dr. David Brent, one of the authors of the study.

Brent, of the University of Pittsburgh, said he believes some opioid users might display less care, monitoring and affection for their children, which would explain the higher suicide rate in those kids.

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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

Suicide increased across all ages in the United States between 1999 and 2016, spiking by over 30% in half the country, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported last year.

Another study found that among girls age 10 to 14 the suicide rate rose by 12.7% per year after 2007. In the latest study, researchers used medical insurance data from 2010 to 2016 for more than 300,000 children ages 10 to 19, and broke that group down into those whose parents were prescribed opioid drugs and those whose parents were not.

Among the children of parents who used opioids, 0.37% attempted suicide, compared to 0.14 % of the children of non-users, according to the study, which was funded by the National Institutes of Health.

The parents were all legally prescribed opioids that they used for at least a year. The study did not identify which of those users may have been abusing painkillers, as opposed to using them in line with doctor recommendations.

Challenges for children of drug users

Children of opioid users still had a significantly higher risk of attempting suicide after researchers adjusted for factors such as depression and parental history of suicide.

Some researchers have suggested social media could harm children’s self esteem and increase their suicide risk. But Brent and his co-authors noted social media is prevalent in countries that have not seen a rise in child suicide.

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The U.S. opioid crisis is taking a toll on children of users as a study published on Wednesday showed they were more likely to attempt suicide. Pixabay

U.S. President Donald Trump declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency in October 2017 and has promised to hold drugmakers accountable for their part in the crisis.

Nearly 400,000 people died of overdoses between 1999 and 2017 in the United States, resulting in the lowering of overall life expectancy for the first in more than 60 years, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

ALSO READ: UK Study: E-Cigarettes help Smokers Quit as Much as Stop-Smoking Aids

Eric Rice, an associate professor at the University of Southern California’s school of social work, said other research has found children of drug users face challenges.

“A doubling in the suicide rate is a pretty shocking manifestation of that, I’ve got to be honest,” Rice said. “But to hear that there are impacts on children which are negative is not a surprising thing,” said Rice, who was not involved with the study. (VOA)