insys therapeutics

The Oct. 26 arrest of John Kapoor, Insys Therapeutics’ founder, CEO and majority owner, on federal fraud and conspiracy charges, happened the same day the Trump administration formally proclaimed a stance against opioids. That coincidence was rich with irony for cannabis observers. Insys manufactures and markets the extremely potent fentanyl spray Subsys, as well as the synthetic-THC spray Syndros. Last year, it contributed $500,000 to help defeat Arizona’s Proposition 205 ballot initiative, the Legalization and Regulation of Marijuana Act.

“That the No on 205 campaign got in bed with Insys is telling of just how desperate they were to fight the trend of common-sense marijuana-law reform sweeping the country,” Prop 2015 campaign manager Adam Kinsey tells Freedom Leaf.

Kapoor and six former Insys executives were charged with “RICO conspiracy, as well as other felonies, including conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud… and conspiring to bribe practitioners in various states, many of who operated pain clinics, in order to get them to prescribe a fentanyl-based pain medication (‘Subsys’), a powerful narcotic intended to treat cancer patients suffering intense breakthrough pain,” the Department of Justice stated. “In exchange for bribes and kickbacks, the practitioners wrote large numbers of prescriptions for the patients, most of whom were not diagnosed with cancer.” The indictment also alleges that Kapoor and the six others conspired to mislead and defraud health-insurance providers who were reluctant to approve payment for the drug when it was prescribed for non-cancer patients.

Kapoor, a self-made immigrant Indian-American pharmaceutical billionaire, was one of the biggest contributors to the No on 205 campaign. In August 2016, it was revealed Insys had given a half-million dollars to the Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy PAC to “take out the competition.” The scheme worked. After massive fund-raising efforts by Governor Doug Ducey and an appallingly deceptive misinformation campaign directed by county prosecutors Sheila Polk and Bill Montgomery via their “nonprofit organization” MATFORCE, Prop 205 lost by a 4% margin, giving it the dubious distinction of being the only pro-cannabis measure on state ballots in November 2016 to fail.

But karma came back to bite Kapoor, who was arrested in Massachusetts as part of a whopping 79-count indictment that seeks both prison time for Insys executives and civil forfeiture from the company and its execs for their ill-gotten gains. Insys execs and sales reps are also being investigated in Alabama, Arizona, Illinois and Oregon.

After helping create a national opioid epidemic and having its board indicted for racketeering, you might think Insys would’ve been run out of Phoenix when the arrests started happening last December. Instead, it was given a gold mine. In March 2017, Insys announced that it had received preliminary approval from the Drug Enforcement Administration for the Syndros spray to be classified as a Schedule II legal cannabinoid product.

Kapoor came up with the idea of Subsys after his wife died of breast cancer in 2005. The company received approval for it in 2012. By 2015, it was selling almost $300 million a year of Subsys, 99% of its total revenue.

Subsys was intended for late-stage cancer patients, but Insys soon realized that they die off too fast to make much use of the drug. Before long, the company devised a kickback scheme where doctors and prescribing nurses were rewarded for writing prescriptions. Insys staffers were instructed to lie to insurers and medical personnel to the point of fabricating oncology records and patient diagnoses.

Once considered a hot stock, Insys has taken a big tumble. It dropped 23% on the day of Kapoor’s October arrest, and he resigned as CEO three days later. Overall, Insys stock value has plunged 87% since June 2015.

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About Mikel Weisser

State director of Arizona NORML and writer for Freedom Leaf. He helped draft Prop 205, Arizona’s legalization initiative in 2016.

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