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A big pharma billionaire was arrested for opioid-pushing bribes

A big pharma billionaire was arrested for opioid-pushing bribes
[Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images]

The opioid crisis has left many victims in its wake,  more than 59,000 lives in 2016 alone. Now, it finally has at least one possible culprit, a big pharma exec charged with bribing doctors to dole out fentanyl, an opioid drug that can be 50 times as powerful as heroin, sometimes to patients who didn’t need it.

As Bloomberg reports, Insys Therapeutics Inc. founder John Kapoor was arrested on Thursday in Arizona and charged with racketeering conspiracy and other felonies. He’s scheduled to appear in a Phoenix court later in the day on charges that he and six other executives conspired to pay doctors to get them to prescribe his company’s drug, Subsys, a fentanyl-based spray that is designed to help cancer-sufferers cope with their pain. Kapoor, who is worth an estimated $1.8 billion, is accused of bribing doctors to give the drug to patients that don’t have cancer, so that his company could make a bigger profit.

Acting U.S. attorney William D. Weinreb said in a statement:

“In the midst of a nationwide opioid epidemic that has reached crisis proportions, Mr. Kapoor and his company stand accused of bribing doctors to overprescribe a potent opioid and committing fraud on insurance companies solely for profit. Today’s arrest and charges reflect our ongoing efforts to attack the opioid crisis from all angles. We must hold the industry and its leadership accountable—just as we would the cartels or a street-level drug dealer.”

As Bloomberg reports, Insys Therapuetics Inc. has been in settlement talks with the U.S. Justice Department about the seemingly questionable marketing of Subsys. Kapoor stepped down from his role as chairman and CEO in January, but he remained on the company’s board of directors and retained a majority stake. While he ranked sixth last year on Forbes’ list of wealthiest Arizonans with a net worth of $2.1 billion, Kapoor fell off this year’s list amid sharp declines in Insys’s stock price.


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The news came just hours before President Trump declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency. The declaration will free up some federal grant money to combat opioid abuse, and could ease certain laws and regulations in the hopes of curbing the drug use epidemic that is plaguing the nation. Kapoor’s arrest also comes a week after 60 Minutes and The Washington Post published a damning report about the DEA’s failure to punish opioid makers over questionable distribution practices, which led President Trump’s nominee for national drug czar to withdraw.

As the New York Times notes, Trump’s new declaration falls far short of declaring a war on opioids themselves; notably, he did not declare it a national emergency. But a baby step is better than nothing when it comes to curtailing this national crisis, which is killing over 100 people a day and costing the U.S. economy billions of dollars annually.ML