The state of North Carolina is suing drug maker Insys Therapeutics, Inc. for pushing a drug through what they say is fraudulent and illegal tactics. In the state’s Insys lawsuit, North Carolina accused the pharmaceutical giant of knowingly and repeatedly violated the state’s Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act in how it marketed and sold its product, Subsys, for years.
“As millions of Americans were becoming addicted to and dying from prescription painkillers, it appears Insys and its sales representatives [were] pushing its incredibly potent opioid on North Carolina patients just to make more money,” said Attorney General Stein in a press release announcing the actions. “This is unconscionable, it’s unacceptable and it’s illegal.” Subsys is meant specifically for cancer patients who are already taking heavy narcotics but experience additional, breakthrough pain. The drug is meant for patients that don’t find other medications as effective as the alternatives, such as high doses of morphine.
The lawsuit alleges a laundry list of illegal actions according to the State of North Carolina. Insys is accused of giving illegal kickbacks to doctors. Doctors were allegedly rewarded for promoting and prescribing Subsys for non-cancer patients. The money was funneled through a multi-million dollar speaker program, that the Attorney General says rewarded physicians who wrote prescriptions for the drug. Emails reveal that in 2012, a Charlotte-based Vice President of Sales told one sales rep that the only requirement to be a speaker at the program, the doctors need only prescribe a large quantity of the drugs. Subsys costs between $3000 and $30,000 dollars a month.
Insys employees are also accused of pressuring doctors to switch patients not on already fentanyl to Subsys, and sometimes at doses over 16 times the recommended dosage. At the same time, insurers were being duped into covering prescriptions of Subsys for people who might not actually have a need for such a hardcore opioid. Insys employees are accused of being deeply involved in this process, making calls on behalf of doctors and their staff and inventing medical histories for. In total, just 10% of people who received prescriptions for Subsys were taking it for breakthrough cancer pain, which is the only use the FDA has approved for the powerful drug. “Breakthrough cancer pain” is considered to be an uncommon symptom.
Insys Therapeutics has sold almost a billion dollars worth of Subsys, which is 100 times stronger than morphine, in five years.