Dr. Jerrold Rosenberg allegedly prescribed numerous patients a highly addictive opioid spray, Subsys, in exchange for kickbacks, and these victims are gearing up to go before U.S. District Judge Jack McConnell, nominated to his position by former President Barack Obama, with their stories of overdoses, prolonged periods of withdrawal, extreme weight loss, and broken bones while on the powerful medication. Rosenberg’s case is one of several nationwide that have been brought to court against Insys Therapeutics and the prescribers of Subsys, a drug meant to be used solely by cancer patients experiencing severe pain. Rosenberg has admitted he prescribed the lucrative medication to people who didn’t have cancer.
The doctor, who practiced in Rhode Island, pleaded guilty to one count each of health-care fraud and conspiracy to receive kickbacks last year. According to authorities, Insys Therapeutics paid Rosenberg for “sham” speaking engagements in exchange for him prescribing the expensive and deadly fentanyl spray. Rosenberg gave 91 of these presentations over a three-year period, which were typically held at fancy restaurants and only attended by family, friends, colleagues an Insys sales reps. Often the same people would attend several, and in some cases, Rosenberg actually forged signatures in an attempt to show that medical professionals were present.
A federal grand jury indicted Rosenberg on charges of receiving more than $180,000 in speaking fees that resulted in the loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars to Medicare and insurance companies. The indictment described Rosenberg as “far and away the biggest prescriber of the fentanyl spray in Rhode Island” and one of the largest in the United States.
In documents filed this month, the U.S. Attorney’s office in Providence recounted stories of several patients who testified they were hurt by Rosenberg. Among them were two patients who overdosed but survived because they were administered Narcan.
Grand jury testimony in the case detailed one incident in which the physician told one of his patients, “Stop crying, you’re acting like a child,” when she complained of severe side effects, including losing 40 pounds and repeated vomiting for years.
Another one of Roseberg’s victims, a 68-year-old patient, collapsed in his office in July 2013. The man’s wife took him to the hospital, where he was treated with Narcan and diagnosed with opioid intoxication. He said Subsys turned him into a “zombie”. Yet, Rosenberg’s attorney wrote that the patient was taking other medications that could have caused his zombie-like lethargy and sedation.
Another patient claimed she was falling all the time because she was so high on Subsys. She said she fell nine to ten times and suffered a number of injuries, including breaking bones from her thumb to her wrist. “I was killing myself. I was so high,” she said.
Rosenberg’s attorney has disputed the number of patients affected by his client in court filings. He has also made claims there’s no evidence the overdoses were caused by Rosenberg’s prescriptions.
The court will now need to determine the severity of Rosenberg’s crimes and how many victims were impacted by his poor business practices. The physician is facing a maximum sentence of fifteen years in prison.