Makers of Fentanyl Under Fire for Bribing Doctors

INSYS logo
(Photo by Casimiro PT/

There’s something special and even a little energizing when the bad guy finally gets caught. When the underdog hero somehow manages to win against insurmountable odds. When the credits start to roll, the camera pans out, and the lone hero looks out on an open plain, grim, silent, brooding.

We get excited about these scenes in movies, and we get enthusiastic about them in real life too. A recent example has been the slew of lawsuits filed against pharmaceutical companies for the role they played in the opioid epidemic. I can’t help but wonder though, if so many pharma companies are getting sued over making addictive drugs, why are so many Americans still choosing to consume those very same drugs?

June 6th brought a headline in the Washington Post which read, “Maker of Addictive Fentanyl Spray Agrees to Pay $225 Million for Prescriptions-for-Cash Scheme.” That marked the culmination of several months of litigation between Insys Therapeutics and the State of Massachusetts. The article, written by Eli Rosenberg, focused on the seeming downfall of Insys and how the company was finally caught for a wide range of criminal activities.

The Lawsuit

INSYS lawsuit

The trial of Insys Therapeutics wasn’t even close to being over when the drug magnate agreed to pay $225 million in fines. Insys went that route so that the criminal and civil investigations into the company would come to a close. Most of the time, when a drug maker agrees to pay a significant fine out of court, they do so as a negotiation tool to avoid a full, public trial.

But not this time. Insys had to pay a huge fine, and the company had to plead guilty on five counts of mail fraud. The company got burned on both sides. It lost a significant sum of money, and it had to admit to some of its crimes.

Insys had to admit that the company bribed doctors with lavish parties, dinners, lunches, lap dances, and cash kickbacks if the doctors would prescribe the company’s drugs. The primary drug that Insys wanted doctors to prescribe was Subsys, a potent and addictive opioid fentanyl spray.

What made the situation even worse was that Subsys was FDA approved for the treatment of cancer patients. However, Insys was bribing doctors to prescribe the spray to thousands of people, people who did not have cancer and who did not need the drug. That prescribing behavior immediately set the stage for addiction. Patients didn’t need the drug, doctors prescribed it anyway, patients became addicted to it.

The Insys case is also unique because this is one of the first cases, if not the first case, in which executives of a pharma company have faced criminal charges and possible jail time for their role in creating the opioid epidemic. In fact, this is exactly what the American people have been asking for—that pharma companies be treated under the same criminal laws as the drug dealers are since pharma companies absolutely are drug dealers.

According to the Washington Post, five former Insys employees were successfully convicted of racketeering and they now face up to 20 years of jail time.

According to U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts Andrew E. Lelling, “For years, Insys engaged in prolonged, illegal conduct that prioritized its profits over the health of the thousands of patients who relied on it. Today, the company is being held responsible for that and for its role in fueling the opioid epidemic.”

This lawsuit has become so costly for Insys Therapeutics that the company now teeters on the edge of filing for bankruptcy. The company owes $225 million, and they are required to pay it off in five years, yet the company only has $87.6 million in the bank.

It’s Not All Good News

The Washington Post article makes its conclusion with this statement: “The drugmaker avoided an outright ban because of its cooperation with prosecutors.” That is why this story is not all good news. It is good news that this lawsuit is raising awareness of a major drug company’s crimes. It is good news that the trial might even bankrupt the company. But the bell has not yet tolled for Insys Therapeutics.

There were no orders issued as a result of the lawsuit that the company has to cease making the addictive drugs that the company was bribing doctors to prescribe. So, as long as Insys pays off their settlement and hires a few new executive staff (assuming the five, charged executives do serve time, which is not set in stone), the company could very well go back to making and selling the same drugs that they were making and selling before.

That is how most pharma lawsuits usually go, unfortunately.

  • The company’s crimes are exposed for all to see.
  • The American people are outraged at what the pharma company did and the devastation that it had on the rest of the country.
  • The court case begins to put pressure on the pharma company with more investigations.
  • The pharma company offers to pay a considerable sum of money to settle the case and not have the investigations continue.
  • Whoever is suing the pharma company takes the settlement and ceases all investigations.

I would sincerely like to see pharma litigation that is brought all the way to trial, one which is convened as a public trial so that all lies and evil deeds are exposed and made known to the public.

Helping People Who Still Struggle with Addiction

Holding hand of the loved one

One thing we must remind ourselves of is that the degree to which pharma companies are made to pay for their crimes is not going to affect the lives of those who are currently addicted to drugs. As much as we focus our attention on holding pharmaceutical giants accountable for helping to create the opioid epidemic, we should be expending double or triple that effort to helping those currently addicted to become free from their drug habits.

Residential drug and alcohol addiction treatment is the most sensible course of action for someone who struggles with a drug habit. If you know someone who is addicted to pharmaceutical drugs, try to save your anger for Big Pharma for after you have gotten your loved one into rehab.

Residential rehab is the only safe approach to getting clean from drug addiction.


Reviewed by Claire Pinelli, ICAADC, CCS, LADC, MCAP, RAS



After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.