Pharmaceutical exec guilty of bribing doctors to push opioid

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The former chairman of Insys Therapeutics was convicted of paying doctors millions in bribes to prescribe a highly addictive opioid.

John Kapoor, the 76-year-old pharmaceutical company founder is guilty of racketeering conspiracy for bribing doctors to prescribe fentanyl spray.

Four ex-employees of the Arizona-based company, including a former exotic dancer, were also convicted.

Kapoor and the others were accused of bribing doctors across the country to boost sales of Subsys and misleading insurers to get payment approved for the drug. The bribes were paid in the form of fees for sham speaking engagements that were billed as educational opportunities for other doctors. The charges carry up to 20 years in prison.

The drug is meant for cancer patients in severe pain and can cost as much as $19,000 a month, according to prosecutors.

The case exposed marketing tactics like a rap video aimed at pushing doctors to prescribe higher doses of the drug as well as having a former exotic dancer give a doctor a lap dance to write more prescriptions.

In the rap video, employees danced around an executive dressed as a giant bottle of the powerful spray Subsys. At the end of the video, the person dressed up as the bottle takes off his costume and is revealed to be then-vice president of sales, Alec Burlakoff.

Burlakoff says he met regional sales manager Sunrise Lee at the strip club where she worked and recruited her to join the company despite her lack of pharmaceutical industry experience because he believed she would be willing to help carry out the plan to pay off doctors.

A former CEO of the company, Michael Babich said Insys recruited sales reps who were “easy on the eyes” because doctors didn’t want an “unattractive person to walk in their door.”

“We will continue the fight to clear Dr. Kapoor’s name,” defense attorney Beth Wilkinson said in a statement. She said the long deliberations prove it was “far from an open-and-shut case.”

Wilkinson argued that Burlakoff and Babich were lying about Kapoor in an attempt to save themselves.

Federal prosecutors portrayed the case as part of the government’s effort to go after those it views as responsible for fueling the nation’s deadly opioid crisis.

Opioid overdoses claimed nearly 400,000 lives in the U.S. between 1999 and 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. An estimated 2 million people are addicted to the drugs, which include both prescription painkillers such as OxyContin and illegal drugs such as heroin.

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