Drug Sales Rep Gave Doctors Bribes For Fentanyl Prescriptions

Big pharma reportedly bribed doctors to over-prescribe a dangerous drug to patients who didn't need it.

Fentanyl bribery case
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Big pharma reportedly bribed doctors to over-prescribe a dangerous drug to patients who didn't need it.

A New Jersey Insys Therapeutics sales rep is the latest person to receive criminal charges for inappropriately pushing the use of the fentanyl-based painkiller Subsys.

Michelle Breitenbach pleaded guilty on May 30 to a second-degree charge of conspiring to commit bribery in the marketplace, a charge that can come up up to five years in federal prison. At her hearing, Breitenbach admitted that she had disguised bribes paid to doctors to prescribe Subsys as bogus speaker’s fees, according to NJ.com.

Her sentencing is scheduled for July 6.

The Food and Drug Administration approved the use of Subsys, a fentanyl-based painkiller 50 times more powerful than heroin, for cancer patients experiencing breakthrough pain in 2012, according to KTSP.

However, since the medication hit the market, states have uncovered reports that the drug company has repeatedly pushed doctors to overprescribe medication to patients who don’t meet the FDA standards, disguising kickbacks and bribes as speaker fees.

In March, five Manhattan doctors were indicted for receiving more than $800,000 in kickbacks from Insys to prescribe Subsys to non-cancer patients, according to NBC News. Alexandru Burducea, Gordon Freedman, Jeffrey Goldstein, Todd Schlifstein, and Dialecti Voudouris pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Multiple other doctors, representatives, and associates of Insys have also been indicted for an ongoing kickback scheme that was first uncovered in 2014. Investigators uncovered multiple emails from Insys representatives explicitly requesting doctors to prescribe as many patients as possible in order to remain profitably for Insys, according to NBC News.

In February, Las Vegas doctor Steven Wolper was arrested and charged with 29 counts of healthcare fraud. He faces up to 30 years in prison for charges related to health care fraud and illegal distribution of a controlled substance, according to Pain News Network.

Fentanyl linked to many deaths
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Multiple states have filed lawsuits against Insys and doctors who received kickbacks from the pharmaceutical company, including North Carolina, Arizona, New Jersey, and New York.

Minnesota joined the list of states suing the healthcare company on May 30, according to KTSP. The Minnesota attorney general brought a lawsuit against Insys for illegally pushing overprescription of Sybsus the same day Breitenbach pleaded guilty in a New Jersey court.

Attorney General Lori Swanson said, like in other states, Insys encouraged doctors to attempt to prescribe Subsys to at least one patient daily, and sought out doctors that would be more likely to over prescribe medication. She also said the company created data encouraging doctors to increase prescribed doses beyond the FDA recommendation, according to KTSP.

Insys is also awaiting the results of a congressional investigation into its kickback program and its push to over-prescribe medication to unqualified patients.