Lawsuit Alleges Insys Unlawfully Pushed Highly Addictive Subsys Spray
Attorney General Josh Stein announced an unfair trade lawsuit he filed in Wake County Superior Court against Arizona’s Insys Therapeutics for its marketing campaign he claims rewarded doctors who prescribed the highly addictive drug Subsys, a mouth spray that contains fentanyl and is approved only for patients who have cancer and are experiencing severe pain. Subsys is fifty times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine.
In order to compensate for the drug’s limited intended market, Insys representatives allegedly gave financial incentives to physicians willing to prescribe Subsys to noncancer patients and sponsor presentations designed to further promote the drug. As the allegations were filed, the company responded by describing these presentations as a means of “educating and informing prescribers in the medical community about marketed INSYS products in a fair and balanced manner.”
Stein, who is also involved in an investigation of major opioid manufacturers, said actions like those by Subsys are “unconscionable” and “unacceptable.” He added, “As millions of Americans were becoming addicted to these prescription painkillers and communities were struggling to respond to the crisis, we allege that Insys unlawfully pushed these powerful painkillers on North Carolina patients just to make more money.”
Several former Insys employees and care providers have pleaded guilty to felony charges in connection to the opioid epidemic. In October, federal prosecutors in Boston brought charges against the company’s founder John Kapoor for his alleged connection with offering kickbacks for promoting the powerful drug. Kapoor’s attorney stated his client will fight the charges.
At the time of Kapoor’s indictment, the company said it’s now under new management and has taken “necessary and appropriate steps to prevent past mistakes from happening in the future.” More executives will face trial in the coming weeks.
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported that opioids were involved in 42,249 overdose deaths in 2016, up 28 percent from the previous year. Fatal overdoses that involved fentanyl and similarly addictive drugs doubled in one year, to more than 19,000.
“The opioid epidemic has taken lives and torn apart families all across North Carolina,” Stein said. “Over the past year, I have heard far too many gut-wrenching stories from families who have lost dear loved ones…Tens of thousands of North Carolinians suffer from opioid addiction or substance use disorder. Nearly four people die a day in North Carolina from an accidental overdose, more than any other type of accidental death in our state, and even more overdose each day and are revived by EMS or taken to a hospital for treatment.”
Dr. Christopher Grubb, a pain specialist in Greenville, also spoke regarding how Subsys works and the potential for misuse. He said the drug is extremely addictive “due to its quick absorption into the bloodstream and its immediate euphoric effects.” Grubb added, “Therefore, marketing Subsys for anyone other than those with terminal cancer needlessly puts patients at risk for unintentional overdose and drug addiction.”
Insys previously agreed to pay $9.45 million to resolve investigations by attorneys general in Oregon, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Illinois. It also faces lawsuits by attorneys general in Arizona, New Jersey and New Mexico.