Last year, Insys Therapeutics came out as one of the biggest opponents of legal marijuana in Arizona, spending $500,000 on an anti-legalization campaign put together by Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy, according to the Washington Post. It was one of the largest single contributions to pot opposition ever, and it made sense. Big Pharma’s stance against legal cannabis has been well documented in recent years.
However, there was something about Insys’ stance that didn’t sit right with many people. Insys is responsible for manufacturing Subsys fentanyl, a painkiller that is considered 50 times stronger than heroine and has a deadly track record. There is evidence to suggest that cannabis could curb addiction to both fentanyl and heroine. It is no wonder that Insys is in the business of anti-cannabis legalization campaign(s).
Then, less than five months after the vote in Arizona, the truth was revealed. Insys announced that the DEA had given them the green light to launch Syndros, a cannabinoid designed to treat chemotherapy and AIDS patients struggling with nausea and/or anorexia.
Immediately, cannabis activists cried out against the company, claiming that they had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to stop the very drug they were now trying to bring to market. “It’s a little bit disgusting when you think of the collateral damage for human beings,” Dr. Gina Berman, the medical director of the Giving Tree Wellness Center, told The Guardian.
Since that time, things have begun a downward spiral for the company.
In December of last year, six former Insys executives were arrested for allegedly bribing doctors to prescribe fentanyl, particularly to those patients who didn’t need it. It seemed like Insys was helping to encourage the opioid crises with one former sales rep pleading guilty to fraud charges related to a kickback scheme involving fentanyl purchases.
Then, just this last week, the latest trouble for Insys hit the newsstands. On October 26th, John Kapoor, the founder and majority owner of Insys, was arrested and charged with illegal distribution of a fentanyl spray and for violating anti-kickback laws. In a 20-minute court appearance, Kapoor’s bond was set to $1 million, which was posted later in the day.
Kapoor wasn’t the only Insys employee indicted. Other names included former CEO, Michael Babich; former Vice President of Sales, Alex Burlakoff; former National Director of Sales, Richard Simon; former Regional Sales Directors, Sunrise Lee and Joseph Rowan; and the former Vice President of Managed Markets, Michael Gurry. Each was charged with conspiring to bribe medical practitioners across states.
“In the midst of a nationwide opioid epidemic that has reached crisis proportions, Mr. Kapoor and his company stand accused of bribing doctors to overprescribe a potent opioid and committing fraud on insurance companies solely for profit,” Acting U.S. Attorney William Weinreb said in a statement posted on AZ Central.