BOSTON (Reuters) – The founder of Insys Therapeutics Inc put profits over patients’ safety by bribing doctors to prescribe an addictive fentanyl spray, fueling the U.S. opioid epidemic, a federal prosecutor said Thursday at the end of a landmark trial.
John Kapoor, who served as the drugmaker’s chairman, and four colleagues are the first executives of a painkiller manufacturer to face trial for conduct that authorities say was tied to a drug abuse epidemic that kills tens of thousands of Americans each year.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Nathaniel Yeager told jurors in his closing argument in Boston federal court that Kapoor sought to eliminate the risk of the company failing after investing millions of dollars in founding it by bribing doctors to prescribe Subsys.
Yaeger said the Chandler, Arizona-based company paid doctors to act as speakers at sham events ostensibly meant to educate clinicians about Subsys, which contains fentanyl, a highly potent and addictive opioid.
“They eliminated that risk and transferred it to the patients who were prescribed that drug,” Yeager said. “Profits over patients.”
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved Subsys for use only in treating severe pain in cancer patients. Yet Yaeger said the bribes were meant to cause doctors to prescribe the dangerous drug outside the usual course of medical practice.
He said Kapoor also sought to defraud insurers into paying for Subsys and carried out the scheme with the help of his co-defendants, former Insys executives and managers Michael Gurry, Richard Simon, Sunrise Lee and Joseph Rowan.
All five have pleaded not guilty to racketeering conspiracy.
Kapoor’s attorney was expected to deliver her closing argument later on Thursday. Beth Wilkinson, Kapoor’s lead attorney, told jurors at the trial’s start in January that he had no idea about any “side deals” with doctors.
Kapoor’s 2017 arrest came the same day President Donald Trump declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency. In 2017, a record 47,600 people died of opioid-related overdoses, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Two top former executives – Michael Babich, Insys’ chief executive from 2011 to 2015, and Alec Burlakoff, its ex-vice president of sales – testified against Kapoor after pleading guilty to carrying out the scheme at his direction.
Babich, who joined Insys in 2007, told jurors Kapoor wanted a “return on investment” from paying doctors to act as speakers.