Opioid producers have wreaked havoc on the U.S. for years, and now lawmakers are finally taking note, with a few high-profile drugmakers coming under fire Bribery, corruption, unquenchable greed and an insatiable, egotistical thirst for power: these are all the drivers for the main characters of a good mob movie. And it wasn’t too long ago that they were synonymous with the big tobacco industry and the fines and payouts of the 1990s.
But while the mob-like story of the 1990s was big tobacco, this decade’s story is big pharma, with several major cases confirming a strong link between major drug companies and payouts to medical employees in a mafia-like setup.
One of the best recent examples concerns Insys Therapeutics, a leading U.S. drug maker whose founders and top executives have been caught bribing doctors, in some cases with fatal consequences.
According to the U.S. Attorney who prosecuted Insys, the company has shown "illegal behavior that prioritized its profits over the health of thousands of patients" and has been "fueling the opioid epidemic".
In short, in dealing with Insys representatives, doctors have agreed to prescribe a highly addictive painkiller (the company's opioid spray, Subsys) to patients who did not need it.
Subsys, made from fentanyl, is an opioid much stronger than morphine, according to experts, and approved for terminal cancer patients. As it turns out, though, the target group of terminal cancer patients was not enough to feed the greed of Insys, which was targeting sales to a much larger consumer base: people with non-life-threatening chronic pain.
That’s a massively lucrative and mouth-watering market, considering that some 50 million Americans suffer from chronic pain.
Insys has agreed to pay the federal government $225 million in penalties. It might seem a drop in the bucket compared with the profits that have clearly been made on this chronic opioid frenzy. But that is not where the pain will end for Insys.
Additionally, the company’s founder, John Kapoor, has been found guilty of federal racketeering charges along with four other Insys executives. In parallel, Insys has faced huge legal bills in its fight against hundreds of lawsuits in which they (and other drug lords) are accused of fueling an epidemic that has claimed more than 400,000 lives over the past two decades.
It’s a tough pill to swallow for a company that just two years ago posted $250 million in annual sales.
Now it’s declaring bankruptcy.
Inys is just one link in the chain of Big Pharma’s illegal activities, and the momentum in this case and others suggest that a day of reckoning may be nigh.
The civil trial against Johnson & Johnson opened in the last week of May in Oklahoma. The state’s Attorney General, Mike Hunter, said Johnson & Johnson played a leading role in "the worst man-made health crisis in the history of the country and the state". He accused the company of destroying lives and families.
According to prosecutors, J & J is responsible for falsely and deceptively promoting opioids for treatment of chronic pain, "leading to over prescription, addiction and overdoses that claimed 4,653 lives in Oklahoma in the decade to 2107 and wrecked many times more".
The US opioid epidemic nominally began with Purdue Pharma, the makers of Oxycontin, an addiction-causing prescription drug which is among the drugs most commonly cited in connection with overdose deaths.
More than 1,600 lawsuits have been filed against Purdue in recent years as the opioid crisis has ravaged the United States.
And a plaintiff group that represents hundreds of communities hoping to win compensation from Insys vowed last week to “actively pursue full financial disclosure for Insys and any other defendant that files for bankruptcy”, NPR reported.
Opioids, including prescription painkillers and heroin, played a role in a record 47,600 U.S. overdose deaths in 2017, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
By Damir Kaletovic for conil.me
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