A former top executive of Insys Therapeutics Inc., an Arizona-based pharmaceutical company, pleaded guilty in a Boston courthouse in late November to bribing doctors to prescribe the company’s strongest opioid medication. The former executive, Alec Burlakoff, was Insys’ vice president of sales and is now cooperating with judges after pleading guilty for the racketeering conspiracy. The drug involved in the scheme is Subsys, a cancer pain management medication containing fentanyl, an opioid that is 80 to 100 times stronger than morphine.
One of the methods used in Insys’ racketeering scheme involved the company paying doctors to speak on behalf of Insys if they wrote prescriptions for Subsys — more prescriptions being written would lead to higher compensation and an increased number of speaking opportunities. Being willing to prescribe higher doses would also lead to a bigger payout. Relatives and even girlfriends of the involved medical professionals were moved onto the Insys payroll. Ultimately, the conspiracy led to a number of patients being inappropriately prescribed the highly addictive and dangerous opioid.
Burlakoff’s guilty plea comes nearly three months after the City of Boston filed lawsuits against various opioid pharmaceutical companies, distributors, and a doctor, seeking damages caused by the opioid public health crisis. Purdue Pharma LP, Johnson & Johnson, and Insys were named as three of the drug makers being sued at the time. Dozens of other cities and towns in the state of Massachusetts have filed their own lawsuits against opioid manufacturers and distributors.
The opioid crisis is a nationwide public health crisis that takes thousands of American lives each year. In Boston alone, the number of deaths caused by opioid overdoses reported to the medical examiner by Boston EMS increased by 50 percent in 2017. Nationwide, the rise in overdose deaths has directly contributed to the country’s life expectancy decreasing for the first time since World War II.
While these lawsuits are in progress, Boston officials plan on opening new recovery centers and hosting educational programs to counteract the devastating effects of the opioid crisis on the city. Looking forward, however, they remain hopeful that Big Pharma companies will be forced to pay the price of the suffering their opioids have caused.