John Kapoor, founder of Insys Therapeutics based in Chandler, Arizona, was sentenced last week after being convicted of racketeering conspiracy. That conspiracy involved the bribery of doctors to prescribe the company’s painkiller, fentanyl. Fentanyl is a strong narcotic that has been linked to the opioid crisis throughout the country. Other key executives of the firm had been sentenced to between one year and 33 months for their role in the conspiracy. Kapoor’s sentence was 5½ years.
While the sentencing of these executives for illegally bribing doctors to push the drug on thousands of patients may seem appropriate, we wanted to focus for the moment on the disparity in the drug laws. While the Insys case was a federal prosecution, what we are about to discuss applies equally to most state laws in similar situations.
Executive Racketeering vs. Possession for Sale
The bottom line of the Insys case is that these were men who contributed to the opioid crisis in the United States through bribery, kickbacks and fraud. During the period from 1999 to 2017, approximately 400,000 people in the U.S. died from opioid overdoses.
So these executives used what are essentially payoffs to doctors to push fentanyl on unsuspecting patients. Their penalty for contributing to perhaps many thousands of overdose deaths ranges from between a year and 5½ years in prison. There were also fines involved, in Kapoor’s case, it was pretty hefty – $113 million. The other execs were fined between $2 million and $2.3 million.
To some, these sentences and fines may seem substantial. But everything, as we know, is relative. So let’s look at the sentence for simple possession of a small amount of fentanyl with intent to sell. Under federal law (21 U.S. Code § 841), possession of 40 or more grams of a substance or mixture containing a “detectable amount” of fentanyl ordinarily carries a minimum sentence of between 5 and 40 years in prison, and a fine of between $5 million and $25 million.
Compare the sentences. Clearly, a massive scheme to defraud the public and illegally promote a drug is, under the law, treated less severely than possession of a “detectable” amount of the drug with intent to sell.
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