Maryland authorities announced charges Thursday against an Arizona-based drugmaker that they say engaged in a nationwide scheme “characterized by extraordinary misconduct” to boost profits amid the coast-to-coast opioid epidemic.
The office of Attorney General Brian Frosh filed charges against Insys Therapeutics alleging multiple violations of the state’s consumer protection law. The pharmaceutical company makes a highly addictive opioid spray used to manage uncontrollable pain for adult cancer patients, but Frosh says Insys joined with local health care providers in a “calculated scheme” to target non-cancer patients, including those seeking relief from knee or back pain.
More than 90 percent of the spray-based Subsys prescriptions written or filed in Maryland were actually for people who never should have been taking the potent medication made with the synthetic opioid fentanyl, according to the state’s attorney general.
“The allegations against Insys describe a calculated scheme employing doctors, pharmacists, and sales reps to increase profits and market share at the expense of the health and well-being of vulnerable patients,” Frosh said in a statement.
Other U.S. states have sued Insys, some reaching settlements. When asked about the latest charges of deceptive practices, a spokesman for the pharmaceutical company said the drugmaker “generally refrains from commenting about legal proceedings” as a matter of policy.
In Maryland, which has one of the country’s most punishing opioid overdose mortality rates, Frosh’s consumer protection division asserts that Insys provided tens of thousands of dollars to prescribers as inducements to prescribe Subsys to their patients.
Court documents allege that a sham “speaker program” was frequently made up of social events for company employees, pharmacists and others. Events were routinely held at venues “such as strip clubs, restaurants with scantily-clad waitresses and private hotel rooms,” according to the statement of charges.
“Insys would provide large quantities of alcohol and sales managers and representatives would also pay for lavish perks, such as expensive bottles of wine,” the charges say, adding elsewhere: “Insys has engaged in a nationwide unfair and deceptive scheme characterized by extraordinary misconduct.”
The attorney general’s office also alleges that in Maryland and other places across the country, Insys representatives had “inappropriate sexual or other intimate relationships” with prescribers while encouraging them to write Subsys prescriptions. One doctor residing in Maryland even received Subsys for her own personal consumption, they say.
Ultimately, Frosh says the Arizona company derived roughly $20 million from more than 3,000 Subsys prescriptions in Maryland.
Earlier this year, Maryland announced it had notched a record-high number of drug deaths in 2017. The grim milestone was fueled by an alarming increase of fentanyl-related fatalities.