Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal ex­ec­u­tive guilty of brib­ing doc­tors to push opi­oid

The News-Times - - NATION / WORLD -

BOS­TON — A phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pany founder ac­cused of pay­ing doc­tors mil­lions in bribes to pre­scribe a highly ad­dic­tive fen­tanyl spray was con­victed Thurs­day in a case that ex­posed such mar­ket­ing tac­tics as us­ing a strip­per-turned-sales-rep to give a physi­cian a lap dance.

John Kapoor, the 76-year-old for­mer chair­man of In­sys Ther­a­peu­tics, was found guilty of rack­e­teer­ing con­spir­acy af­ter 15 days of jury de­lib­er­a­tions. Four ex-em­ploy­ees of the Chan­dler, Ari­zona-based com­pany, in­clud­ing the for­mer ex­otic dancer, were also con­victed.

Some of the most sen­sa­tional ev­i­dence in the month­s­long federal trial in­cluded a video of em­ploy­ees danc­ing and rap­ping around an ex­ec­u­tive dressed as a gi­ant bot­tle of the pow­er­ful spray Sub­sys, and tes­ti­mony about how the com­pany made a habit of hir­ing at­trac­tive women as sales rep­re­sen­ta­tives.

Federal pros­e­cu­tors por­trayed the case as part of the govern­ment’s ef­fort to go af­ter those it views as re­spon­si­ble for fu­el­ing the nation’s deadly opi­oid cri­sis.

“This is a land­mark pros­e­cu­tion that vin­di­cated the pub­lic’s in­ter­est in staunch­ing the flow of opioids into our homes and streets,” Mas­sachusetts U.S. At­tor­ney Andrew Lelling said in a state­ment.

Opi­oid over­doses claimed nearly 400,000 lives in the U.S. be­tween 1999 and 2017, ac­cord­ing to the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion. An es­ti­mated 2 mil­lion peo­ple are ad­dicted to the drugs, which in­clude both pre­scrip­tion painkiller­s such as OxyCon­tin and il­le­gal drugs such as heroin.

Kapoor and the oth­ers were ac­cused of schem­ing to bribe doc­tors across the U.S. to boost sales of Sub­sys and mis­lead­ing in­sur­ers to get pay­ment approved for the drug, which is meant for cancer pa­tients in se­vere pain and can cost as much as $19,000 a month, ac­cord­ing to pros­e­cu­tors. The bribes were paid in the form of fees for sham speak­ing en­gage­ments that were billed as ed­u­ca­tional op­por­tu­ni­ties for other doc­tors.

The charges carry up to 20 years in prison.

“We will con­tinue the fight to clear Dr. Kapoor’s name,” de­fense at­tor­ney Beth Wilkin­son said in a state­ment. She said the long de­lib­er­a­tions prove it was “far from an open-and-shut case.”

A for­mer sales rep­re­sen­ta­tive tes­ti­fied that re­gional sales man­ager Sun­rise Lee once gave a lap dance at a Chicago night­club to a doc­tor whom In­sys was push­ing to write more pre­scrip­tions. Lee’s lawyer said she will chal­lenge the ver­dict.

Jurors also watched the rap video , which was shown at a na­tional meet­ing in 2015 to mo­ti­vate sales reps to push doc­tors to pre­scribe higher doses of the drug. At the end of the video, the per­son dressed up as the bot­tle takes off his cos­tume and is re­vealed to be then-vice pres­i­dent of sales, Alec Burlakoff.

Burlakoff pleaded guilty and tes­ti­fied against Kapoor. Burlakoff told the jury that he met Lee at the strip club where she worked and re­cruited her to join the com­pany de­spite her lack of phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal in­dus­try ex­pe­ri­ence be­cause he be­lieved she would be will­ing to help carry out the plan to pay off doc­tors.

A for­mer CEO of the com­pany, Michael Babich, also pleaded guilty and tes­ti­fied against his col­leagues.

Kapoor’s at­tor­ney sought to shift the blame onto Burlakoff, who she said was cut­ting side deals with doc­tors. Wilkin­son ar­gued that Burlakoff and Babich were ly­ing about Kapoor in an at­tempt to save them­selves.

Steven Senne / Associated Press file photo

In­sys Ther­a­peu­tics founder John Kapoor leaves federal court in Bos­ton on Jan. 30. On Thurs­day, Kapoor was found guilty in a scheme to bribe doc­tors to boost sales of a highly ad­dic­tive fen­tanyl spray meant for cancer pa­tients with se­vere pain.

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