Company Used Fake Cancer Patients To Boost Sales Of New Drug

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Democratic Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill is leading the congressional investigation into the illegal and fraudulent practices of Insys Therapeutics.

Close-up of Sen. Claire McCaskill at a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs hearing

The pharmaceutical industry receives stark criticism for being riddled with greed and deceit.

Insys Therapeutics is one drug company that has confirmed the public’s fears. A new report reveals that, in an effort to boost sales of a certain product, Insys took patients who didn’t have cancer and made it appear as though they did.

According to CNN, the company got approval to sell a powerful opioid for cancer patients with acute pain back in 2012 but struggled to find enough cancer patients to use the drug — a sprayable form of fentanyl called Subsys.

The company resorted to using nefarious tactics such as falsifying medical records, misleading insurance companies, and offering kickbacks to doctors who were willing to play along. Their strategies were brought to light by a federal indictment and congressional investigation by Democratic Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill.

McCaskill’s findings were released in a report last week which includes allegations that Insys employees pretended to work for doctors’ offices to trick insurance companies into approving the drug.

According to the Senate report, as early as 2014, whenever a patient needed to obtain pre-approval for a Subsys prescription, an Insys employee would call the insurer to persuade them to give the green light. Meanwhile, the insurers believed they were talking with someone who worked for the patient’s doctor.

A key piece of evidence against Insys is a recording of a call about a New Jersey woman named Sarah Fuller who didn’t have cancer but was prescribed Subsys by her doctor. She later died of a Subsys overdose.

During the call, an Insys employee is heard claiming to be from the office of Fuller’s doctor and using wordplay to suggest that Fuller was suffering from cancer-related breakthrough pain without explicitly saying so.

Amid this ongoing investigation, Insys’ president and CEO Saeed Motahari submitted a letter to congressional investigators, defending the company's practices.

"These mistakes and actions are not indicative of the people that are currently employed at Insys," Motahari wrote, according to a copy of the letter obtained by CNN.

He also wrote that Insys had "completely transformed its employee base over the last several years," and has "actively taken the appropriate steps to place ethical standards of conduct and patient interests at the heart of our business decisions."

Be that as it may, the company's troubled past has jeopardized all of its credibility. Furthermore, these schemes were against the law and they can't just get out of this predicament by claiming they don't do it anymore. 

Justice must be served for Fuller and any other patients who became addicted to or died as a result of using this strong medication that they should have never been prescribed in the first place.  

Banner/Thumbnail Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Rhoda Baer

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