First, it was propofol, the drug that killed Michael Jackson. Then came fentanyl, which killed pop icon Prince. If the pharmaceutical industry has its way, deaths from prescription drugs like these are not likely to decrease anytime soon.
The latest pharma scandal to hit the press involves pharmaceutical sales representatives giving kickbacks to doctors who prescribe their drugs instead of a competitor’s drug.
Fentanyl Reps Arrested by FBI
The FBI recently arrested Jonathan Roper, a pharmaceutical sales manager at Insys Therapeutics, and Fernando Serrano, a sales representative who worked with Roper, on federal anti-kickback charges. Both men sold fentanyl products.
Fentanyl, the drug Prince accidentally overdosed on, is an opioid – and it’s one of the highly addictive prescription drugs that are surging in popularity in the US. Fentanyl is 100 times more potent than morphine.
Insys Therapeutics Makes Millions on Fentanyl
Last year, Insys made $330 million in sales from Subsys, its fentanyl painkiller approved only for cancer patients. However, out of those millions of dollars worth of prescriptions, only 1% were prescribed by oncologists – the doctors who actually treat cancer.
Insys Sales Reps Gave Kickbacks to Doctors
Roper and Serrano are alleged to have set up fake teaching engagements for doctors, paying them a “fee” to teach at fake educational programs in exchange for writing more Subsys prescriptions. Doctors could get paid as much as $3,000 per event. Sign-in sheets for these events contained forged signatures, plumping up the “attendance.”
And, of course, what medical class wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the local strip club? Yes, in addition to paying speaking fees to doctors, Roper and Serrano also comped hotels and meals, including visits to local bars and strip clubs.
Taxpayers End Up Paying for Pharma Kickbacks
In 2014, one doctor hauled in over $147,000 in kickbacks and was responsible for writing $1.2 million in prescriptions. To the FBI, that looks illegal. However, to a pharma company, it might look like a great return on investment. For taxpayers, it will feel like pick-pocketing because those millions came from Medicare reimbursements.
Insys Sales Reps Helped Doctors Cheat on Opioid Tests
Subsys addiction can be so deadly that doctors are required to pass a test showing they understand how risky the drug can be. Only it didn’t quite work that way. Many unqualified doctors passed these tests because Roper and Serrano provided them with a cheat sheet for the answers.
Fentanyl prescriptions show no sign of slowing down yet. Maybe the recent arrests will help to turn the tide.