Pharmaceutical executives to be sentenced for criminal activities related to opioid crisis

This appeared in The Millennial Source

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Eight months after being found guilty of a racketeering conspiracy, five top executives of Insys Therapeutics are set to receive their sentences. The defendants, which include former Insys CEO John Kapoor, were found to have bribed doctors to push the company’s painkiller, Subsys, on patients, even when the drug wasn’t needed.

The case is notable for being the first time a pharmaceutical CEO has been convicted of racketeering related to opioids, according to Bloomberg.

It could establish a precedent for prosecuting other pharmaceutical executives in the midst of what the United States government has deemed an opioid crisis in the country.

What did the executives do?

Alongside Kapoor, Michael Gurry and Richard Simon, Sunrise Lee and Joseph Rowan were found to have paid doctors to promote Subsys at marketing events and to their patients, according to the BBC. Kapoor was accused of lying to insurance companies about patients’ need for Subsys.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, is similar to morphine in its chemical makeup but is “50 to 100 times more potent,” and is therefore highly addictive. It is intended for severe pain or to relieve pain after surgery.

The conviction

In addition to racketeering charges, the defendants were also charged with mail and wire fraud.

As The New York Times has reported, the conviction of the Insys executives likely represents the beginning of the U.S. government holding pharmaceutical companies culpable for their role in the spread of the opioid crisis in America.

In April 2019, federal prosecutors also charged Rochester Drug Cooperative, a major pharmaceutical distributor, and its CEO with drug trafficking, according to ABC News. It was the first such charge against a pharmaceutical company. The company agreed to pay a $20 million penalty in return for a non-prosecution consent decree. It still faces civil lawsuits for its role in the opioid crisis.

The sentencing

Prosecutors have singled out Kapoor as the CEO and asked that he be given a sentence of 15 years. In 2018, after five years on the Forbes Billionaire list, Kapoor dropped off the list, though he still remains a multimillionaire.

Two other Insys executives, Michael Babich and Alec Burlakoff, separately pleaded guilty to racketeering charges and will also be sentenced in January, according to the Boston Herald.

The U.S. opioid crisis

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have collected data on drug overdoses in America. The CDC’s most recent data found that more than 700,000 people died due to drug overdoses from 1999 to 2017. There were 70,000 drug-related deaths in 2017 alone, up from 52,000 in 2015 and 64,000 in 2016.

Of those overdoses, 68 percent “involved a prescription or illicit opioid,” according to the CDC.

The HHS says that pharmaceutical companies in the 1990s reassured healthcare providers that their opioid pain relievers were not addictive. As a result, doctors over-prescribed the drugs and addiction rates soared.

Other culprits in the opioid crisis include so-called “ pill mills,” walk-in clinics that provide prescriptions for opioid painkillers with little oversight or diagnostic work, according to ABC News. Such clinics started appearing in the 1990s but exploded in the early 2000s.

What is racketeering?

Racketeering is generally associated with organized crime, according to CNN. Racketeering charges, which can include kidnapping, murder, and bribery, have been used to get convictions against large mafia families.

The charge is covered by the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, passed in 1970. The act was originally designed to prevent the “infiltration of organized crime and racketeering into legitimate organizations operating in interstate commerce,” according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Originally published at on January 16, 2020.

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