After a year of investigation, six former executives of Insys Therapeutics – including former CEO, Michael Babich – have been arrested on charges of bribing physicians to prescribe the company’s fentanyl-based painkiller, Subsys. While the opioid drug is only approved for the treatment of cancer pain, the executives are accused of paying doctors to prescribe the drug for other, unapproved indications.
In addition to the ex-CEO, the former national director of sales, former VP of sales, former VP of managed markets and two former regional sales directors were all arrested in connection with the bribery scheme. The US Attorney’s Office of the District of Massachusetts announced the arrests of the former executives of the Arizona-based Insys last week.
The executives are also accused of conspiring to defraud health insurance providers, who would only pay for the drug when it was prescribed to patients diagnosed with cancer. They overcame this roadblock by allegedly establishing a reimbursement unit, aimed at securing authorization from payers and pharmacy benefit managers before the drugs were prescribed.
“Patient safety is paramount and prescriptions for these highly addictive drugs, especially fentanyl, which is among the most potent and addictive opioids, should be prescribed without the influence of corporate money,” said US Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz. “I hope that today’s charges send a clear message that we will continue to attack the opioid epidemic from all angles, whether it is corporate greed or street level dealing.”
Prescribing opioid drugs is being taken very seriously in the US where the medications are being linked to addiction, overdose and deaths. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, an average of 650,000 opioid prescriptions are filled every day in the US.
Opioid-related deaths have been on the rise, with the majority of fatalities being linked to abuse of the powerful painkillers. Opioid abuse costs US healthcare and social systems $55 billion, each year.
“We take allegations of paying kickbacks to physicians in exchange for prescribing medically unnecessary painkillers extremely seriously,” said Special Agent in Charge Phillip Coyne of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Inspector General. “Working closely with our law enforcement partners, we will continue to protect the health of Medicare beneficiaries and the integrity of the nation’s healthcare system.”