Posted on January 24, 2020

Some Opioid Executives Are Finally Going to Prison

German Lopez, Vox, January 24, 2020

A federal court has sentenced former executives of Insys, including founder and ex-CEO John Kapoor, to years in prison for their role in irresponsibly marketing the painkiller Subsys and perpetuating the opioid epidemic.

On Thursday, US District Judge Allison Burroughs sentenced Kapoor to five-and-a-half years in prison — less than the 15 years requested by prosecutors but more than the one year requested by his defense. The other executives previously received sentences between one and three years.

The executives were previously found guilty of criminal racketeering — the kind of charge under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act that’s typically used to shut down the mob and drug trafficking organizations.

Throughout the trial, prosecutors detailed Insys’s far-reaching efforts to sell as much of its potent opioid painkiller, Subsys, as possible, beyond its approved use for cancer pain. According to the New York Times, prosecutors accused the company of paying off doctors for, say, fake educational talks, so they’d prescribe the drug widely. It also misled and lied to insurance companies so they would pay for the medication. The company even hired a stripper, Sunrise Lee, as a sales executive, and a former employee said she saw Lee give a doctor a lap dance to get him to prescribe more of the opioid.


Insys previously admitted to the kickback scheme and agreed to pay $225 million, then filed for bankruptcy shortly after, NPR reported.

It’s not the first time an opioid company has been found guilty of criminal charges. In 2007, Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, and three of its top executives paid more than $630 million in federal fines for misleading marketing. The three executives were also criminally convicted, each sentenced to three years probation and 400 hours of community service.


What’s unique about the Insys case, though, is the outcome of prison time.


Since the 1990s, roughly 400,000 people have died from opioid overdoses — either on painkillers themselves, or in many cases heroin or illicit fentanyl through a drug addiction that began with painkillers.