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Pharma and the Opioid Epidemic

Apr 10, 2019 | Drug Crimes

The news has been overflowing of late regarding what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) refers to as the opioid epidemic. We discussed the issue in our blog early last year. It includes drug addiction, drug overdoses and deaths, drug crimes, and other issues.

The latest report in the Arizona area came this week. A former senior executive with Insys Therapeutics agreed to pay $9.5 million to settle consumer fraud claims. Insys, based in Chandler, is the maker of Subsys, a highly potent version of fentanyl. When approved by the FDA, Subsys was considered so powerful and carried such potential for addiction that it was approved only for certain cancer patients.

In the meantime, the Insys sales force was pushing the drug by offering inducements to doctors and clinics to prescribe it. It has been illegal for some time to simply pay kickbacks to a doctor for prescribing a specific medicine. Instead, Insys developed a marketing plan that provided “speaker fees” to doctors. Apparently, they weren’t necessarily the kind of speaker programs you might imagine; in fact, it might consist of having dinner with a couple of folks. The implication from the reports is that these were simply payoffs.

Interestingly, the executive who was just fined was the subject of a New York Times article from 2018, which describes in detail the sales pitch to a particular doctor who owned a clinic in Florida. Incidentally, don’t feel too bad for the exec because of the huge fine; more than half of it involved foregoing compensation in the form of Insys stock.

How the Drug Epidemic Affects Arizona

The problems caused by the overprescribing of opioids and other addictive prescription drugs lead not only to overdoses and deaths, but also to a host of arrests and convictions for drug crimes. While Subsys is not the only drug causing addiction and related issues, a review of the current state of the Arizona prison population will give you an idea of the scope of the problem:

  • Over 42,000 men and women are incarcerated in Arizona. At more than 870 people incarcerated for every 100,000 population, Arizona has the 4th highest incarceration rate in the country. That number has skyrocketed over the last several decades.
  • Over 20% of Arizona inmates are incarcerated because of drug convictions. That’s the largest percentage of any crime category among inmates.
  • More than 75% of all prisoners have significant substance abuse histories.

As we said, neither Insys nor opioids are the only problems. On the other hand, the opioid epidemic continues to have a substantial negative – and sometimes deadly – impact on the population and on the state as a whole.

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