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Four former executives from Insys Therapeutics were just cleared of some serious convictions after a judge ruled there wasn’t sufficient evidence to prove they bribed doctors intentionally to get them to illegally push the fentanyl drug Subsys.
The executives have long been accused of wining and dining and incentivizing doctors with speaker fees, trips to strip clubs, and gun range excursions.
Insys founder John Kapoor and three of his former executives are still guilty of regular mail and wire fraud after a federal jury handed down those convictions in May, but their eventual prison sentences could now be lighter, according to Reuters. The executives’ sentencing hearings are all scheduled for January.
The reason for the partial overturned convictions, according to a federal judge’s ruling Tuesday: Government attorneys failed in proving that the executives intended for doctors to illegally prescribe their potent fentanyl spray, Subsys, to people who didn’t need it. While Insys executives bribed doctors to prescribe the cancer-pain drug with trips to strip clubs, fancy dinners, and shady fees for speaking at events, there wasn’t enough evidence to determine beyond a reasonable doubt that those bribes were supposed to inspire doctors to act like illegal drug pushers. That intention had to be proven to uphold the convictions for honest services fraud and violations of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).
More than 900 people died from overdoses of Subsys after it was approved in 2012 to treat severe, cancer-related pain in terminally ill patients.
“The fact that the healthcare practitioners did in fact prescribe Subsys to patients that did not need it or at a higher than necessary dose is similarly not enough to prove that that is what the defendants intended,” U.S. District Judge Allison Burroughs wrote in her ruling. She added later that government attorneys could’ve more easily won bribery convictions, they “elected not to charge bribes or kickbacks and now must live with that decision.”
The other executives who saw their controlled substance and honest services fraud convictions partially overturned were Richard Simon, Sunrise Lee, and Joseph Rowan. Burroughs said she was reluctant to overturn a thorough jury verdict, and won’t approve another trial.
“The conduct of Insys and the defendants in this case was reprehensible and designed to financially incentivize healthcare practitioners to prescribe Subsys without regard for the best interests of their patients,” U.S. District Judge Allison Burroughs wrote in her ruling. “Defendants knew the power of Subsys and that addiction was a risk, but nonetheless tried to maximize the number of prescriptions written and the dosage prescribed. Overturning the verdicts on the CSA and honest services fraud predicates is not meant to condone or minimize this behavior.”
Indeed, that behavior was pretty wild. For example, Rowan was accused of offering unusual perks to the Subsys-prescribing doctor Bart Gatz, like a trip to Arizona and “champagne room” sessions at a strip club. The two also went to a shooting range together. The doctor, in turn, wrote more prescriptions for Subsys. And Kapoor would host doctors at his fancy Chicago restaurant, Roka Akor. Finally, in video that was indicting on its own, salesmen rapped about Subsys’ success to the tune of A$AP Rocky’s “Fuckin’ Problems.” In part, they attributed that success to “titrations,” or the process in which a doctor gradually ups a drug’s dosage.
“Shoutout to Kapoor for what you created,” one of the salesmen said in the video.
Cover: In this Jan. 30, 2019, file photo, Insys Therapeutics founder John Kapoor leaves federal court in Boston. (AP Photo/Steven Senne, File)