Health Society

Ever Heard of Insys Therapeutics?

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Insys Therapeutics makes a spray version of the powerful opiate fentanyl, which is many times stronger than morphine.

The company pays speakers fees to doctors, some of whom have had their licenses suspended or face jail time for overprescribing the drug. In Connecticut, a nurse admitted to taking kickbacks in exchange for prescribing the drug.

Insys faces federal inquiries and questions from lawmakers about its practices, including alleged promotion of the drug for off-label uses.

You’ve probably never heard of Insys Therapeutics. You’ve also probably never heard of its only drug, Subsys, a spray version of the powerful opiate fentanyl.

But the story of Insys and a mounting list of alleged misdeeds with Subsys will teach you a lot about the role of corporate greed in the opioid crisis.

In trying to understand the epidemic, we’ve heard many stories of devastated communities and families trying to cope. We’ve heard of addicted patients and overburdened treatment facilities.

But it has been harder to understand how these drugs spread so quickly, how suddenly it seemed like pain medication was everywhere.

Insys figured out one devastatingly effective and potentially illegal way to get their product out there.

It deployed a strategy of paying some doctors “speakers fees,” while allegedly using inexperienced salespeople to bully others into using the drug. It faces inquiries into whether it promoted off-label use of a painkiller intended for cancer patients that is many times stronger than morphine. For some of this, Insys — which is publicly traded with a market cap of about $800 million — has already gotten in trouble with federal law enforcement.

Other aspects of its business practices remain under investigation or have yet to be proved in a court of law. We’re bound to learn a lot more as congressional inquiries and shareholder lawsuits proceed, but there are some things we do know already. One of the most alarming is about some of the doctors prescribing the drug.

Of the 15 top prescribers of the Subsys in 2014, nine have faced or are facing serious legal allegations related to their medical practice. Most of these issues are directly related to their distribution of Subsys. At least two could spend decades in jail.

All of them have received tens of thousands of dollars from Arizona-based Insys. The company did not respond to Business Insider’s repeated requests for comment for this story.

Known knowns

It’s not hard to find out who the top prescribers of Subsys are. All of that information is available through the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and has been compiled into an easy-to-search website by ProPublica. The year 2014 is the most recent for which data is available.

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