BOSTON (Reuters) – Prosecutors on Thursday will present their closing arguments in the trial of the wealthy founder of pharmaceutical company Insys Therapeutics Inc and four colleagues accused of contributing to the U.S. opioid epidemic by bribing doctors to prescribe an addictive fentanyl spray.
John Kapoor, who served as the Arizona-based drugmaker’s chairman, and his co-defendants are the first executives of a painkiller manufacturer to face trial for conduct that authorities say was tied to the deadly opioid crisis.
Prosecutors say Kapoor oversaw a wide-ranging scheme to bribe doctors nationwide by retaining them to act as speakers at poorly-attended sham events at restaurants ostensibly meant to educate clinicians about its fentanyl spray, Subsys.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has only approved Subsys for use in treating severe pain in cancer patients. Yet prosecutors says doctors who took bribes often prescribed Subsys to patients without cancer, helping boost sales at Insys.
Prosecutors said Kapoor also sought to defraud insurers into paying for Subsys. He is alleged to have had help from 2012 to 2015 from his co-defendants, former Insys executives and managers Michael Gurry, Richard Simon, Sunrise Lee and Joseph Rowan.
All five have pleaded not guilty to racketeering conspiracy. Lawyers for Kapoor acknowledge that Insys paid doctors but contend that he believed they really were being paid to talk up the product’s benefits.
Beth Wilkinson, Kapoor’s lead attorney, told jurors at the trial’s start in January that he had no idea about any “side deals” that were being cut with doctors.
Kapoor’s 2017 arrest came the same day U.S. President Donald Trump declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency. In 2017, a record 47,600 people died of opioid-related overdoses, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Two top former executives – Michael Babich, Insys’ chief executive from 2011 to 2015, and Alec Burlakoff, its ex-vice president of sales – testified against Kapoor after pleading guilty to carrying out the scheme at his direction.
Babich, who joined Insys in 2007 after helping manage investments for Kapoor at the pharmaceutical industry veteran’s family office, told jurors Kapoor wanted a “return on investment” from paying doctors to act as speakers.
Much of the trial’s testimony focused on how Insys marketed Subsys to doctors. One witness testified that Lee, a former stripper who became a regional sales director, gave a doctor a lap dance at a Chicago club one time while promoting Subsys.
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