A doctor is New York has pled guilty to taking a $199,400 kickback from an opioid manufacturer. The doctor was charged with a number of crimes in relation to his conduct, which involved distributing several kinds of different opioids to a patient. The patient died from an overdose as a result of the doctor’s conduct. This case is part of a larger investigation where a number of InSys executives have been charged in a scheme to bribe doctors to prescribe their medications, and the CEO is convicted. In addition, InSys is facing hundreds of lawsuits from state and local governments for its role in the opioid crisis.
In this particular case, the doctor, Gordon Freedman, ran a pain management clinic in Manhattan. He faced two separate indictments. One indictment was due to the fact that he prescribed 150 doses of a medication containing Fentanyl and approximately 950 oxycodone pills containing approximately 30mg of oxycodone per pill. Three weeks after Freedman wrote the prescription, the patient died of an overdose. Based on this conduct, Freedman was charged with 15 counts of distributing controlled substances and one count of distributing controlled substances that caused the death of another. For the latter charge, Freedman faces a minimum of 20 years and the possibility of life in prison.
The second indictment was for accepting the money from the opioid manufacturer. This is part of a larger investigation that has resulted in a number of charges against several doctors and seven InSys executives. Five different doctors have been indicted for their role in the scheme. They received between $68,000 and $308,000 each from the company in exchange for prescribing the opioid Subsys. In turn, the doctors prescribed a combined total of millions of dollars worth of these drugs. Freedman alone prescribed over $1 million of this drug in a single quarter.
InSys ran something that they called the “Speaker’s Bureau.” The only problem was that the doctors did not actually give any speeches. Instead, they participated in social affairs that did not require the doctors to perform much, if any work. The doctors did not prescribe Subsys before they began to accept money from the company. Afterwards, they became among the largest prescribers of the drug in the entire country. In addition to the payments for being part of the “Speaker’s Bureau,” several of the doctors also took trips to a strip club with InSys employees where InSys picked up the tab.
Here, the doctors are charged with violating the Anti-Kickback Act. This law applies specifically to the healthcare sector, and is intended to ensure that doctors are completely objective in their recommendation of services and medicines. When the government is paying healthcare services through a program such as Medicare or Medicaid, the doctor may not receive anything of value in exchange for a referral or a recommendation. The statute is intended to prevent doctors from giving biased referrals that would serve to both run up the federal government’s costs and act against the patient’s interests in favor of the doctor’s financial interests. The Anti-Kickback Act is a criminal statute that is punishable with jail time.
InSys executives have already been indicted in connection with other misconduct, although those cases are unrelated to this one. Seven corporate executives have been charged in a scheme to bribe doctors to prescribe opioids and then to defraud insurance companies by getting them to pay for it. Here, two company executives plead guilty and cooperated with the government in the case against the doctors.
InSys’ CEO became the first pharmaceutical chief executive ever to be convicted in a bribery scheme. The CEO was found guilty of a racketeering conspiracy. The scheme involved similar conduct for which Freeman was indicted. Usually, the company would pay doctors for marketing events. This is just the beginning of attempts to hold executive from opioid manufacturers criminally liable for illegal conduct.
InSys’ actions resulted in numerous patients who did not have cancer being prescribed a powerful painkiller 50 times more potent than heroin. According to the courts, this was a conspiracy to violate numerous laws and was a fraud upon the health insurance companies that approved payments for these drugs.
The entire opioids industry has relied upon questionable methods in order to flood the market with its products. Billions of pills have rained down on individual states and areas have been inundated with thousands of pills for each individual resident in that area. The industry has made billions of dollars at the cost of a massive public health crisis, in part by inducing doctors to prescribe its drugs.
Freeman’s prosecution is the latest in a series of criminal prosecutions against doctors who received financial incentives to prescribe opioids or otherwise illegitimately prescribed these drugs. Freeman’s conviction was in federal court and based on a federal statute. Doctors can also be charged with murder under state law when they improperly prescribe medications that result in a fatal overdose.
Now that the law enforcement authorities have taken the fight against the opioid epidemic to the courts, more prosecutions of this type are likely. It is probable that the InSys scandal is but one improper practice that companies have used to induce physicians to allow patients to obtain illegal drugs.