An Arizona doctor has been charged with racketeering, conspiracy to commit fraud and conspiracy to violate the Anti-Kickback law. If these allegations are true, billionaire Dr. John N. Kapoor may be the first person to go to jail for their role in the opioid crisis.
Patty Nixon, the woman who would eventually blow the whistle on Dr. Kapoor, told NBC news his scheme was evil, “but brilliant.”
Kapoor’s company, Insys, sells a pain medication that contains fentanyl. Fentanyl is the strongest opioid ever, and perhaps the deadliest street drug in history. The company’s drug should have occupied a niche segment. Originally, it was for cancer patients.
To suck as much money as possible from insurance companies, Kapoor would bribe doctors, and train his sales staff to dupe insurance providers into covering the drug, even for people without cancer. Sarah Fuller, a woman, prescribed Kapoor’s fentanyl-based treatment, only suffered from aches and pains. Fuller died of an overdose, and her family is suing Insys.
Prosecutors allege the companies lies were bold and entirely motivated by profit. Nixon told NBC News she was trained to lie about the office she called from, and would even invent likely diseases the insurance would cover, regardless of if the patient actually had that ailment. The three doctors who prescribed Kapoors fentanyl-based painkiller the most have already been convicted of taking bribes.
Several Insys board members and executives have also been charged. Prosecutors say that this company had bribery and malfeasance baked into the company culture. For now, the company denies wrongdoing and says it should not be held responsible for how doctors prescribe their drug.
This might be the first in a wave of consequences for the pharmaceutical industry
While this company is relatively small in the world of Big Pharma, it sold nearly $230 million of the fentanyl-based medication, just last year. If these allegations are true, greed is really what brought this company down. Bribing doctors and screwing insurance companies is not a business practice for the long term. Many other pharmaceutical companies have more blood on their hands than Insys.
Purdue Pharma, for example, has played a bigger role in the opioid crisis than any other actor. Oxycontin, at one point the most popular pain medication in the United States, is Purdue’s drug. Oxycontin really kicked off the opioid epidemic we’re currently living through. Purdue lied about the safety of its drug, and it’s addictive properties, according to the New Yorker.
Most consequences for Big Pharma companies come from large settlements. This case may be a watershed moment where some people actually go to jail for their role in the crisis.
What the Purdue and Insys have in common is trafficking in misery for profit. The similarities stop there. The Sackler family, who owns Purdue Pharma, are unlikely ever to have to experience painful consequences like Kapoor. Purdue did pay out hundreds of millions of dollars in settlements, but that’s hardly a drop in the bucket for the billions Oxycontin raked in. There are new lawsuits every day for Purdue, but unless there’s a historic ruling, the Sackler family is well insulated.
Hopefully, there’s a lesson in this case of bribery and misleading people; a blueprint to bring charges against the ultra-rich who’ve profited off addiction, suffering, and death. Dr. Kappoor thought himself invincible. Other’s in the opioid industry aren’t so naive.