This Tuesday, a former sales representative at the pharmaceutical company Insys Therapeutics, testified in federal court about the cozy relationship that company executives had with doctors that were pushing their drugs.
The employee, Holly Brown, says that her former boss, Sunrise Lee, paid doctors to prescribe addictive opiates including a fentanyl spray, under the pretense that they would be speaking at educational events. Brown says that the events were more like parties for the doctors and their friends. She also said that she saw Lee, her boss, give a lap dance to an Illinois doctor identified as Paul Madison.
According to prosecutors, Lee paid Madison at least $70,800 in speaker fees.
“The idea was these weren’t really meant to be educational programs but were meant to be rewards to physicians,” Brown said in court.
Brown said that during one of the dinners in 2012, she witnessed Lee, “bouncing around” on Madison’s lap.
“She was sitting on his lap, kind of bouncing around, and he had his hands all over her, kind of inappropriately,” Brown testified. “It was disappointing. Certainly something I as an employee was not willing to engage in,” she added.
Fox News reported that Lee has experience as a stripper, which is considered to be honest work when compared to the role of a pharmaceutical executive. However, the problem with combining these two professions should be obvious.
Brown alleges that Lee made the doctor a personal target because of his notoriety as a “whale” among pharmaceutical executives thanks to the ease with which he would prescribe opiates. Last year, Madison was convicted of an unrelated health fraud cause and is currently awaiting sentencing.
According to Brown’s testimony, Lee was using a verity of unethical tactics to convince doctors like Madison to prescribe the controversial fentanyl spray Subsys to their patients. Subsys was approved by the FDA in 2012 but was intended for the specific purpose of treating cancer pain. Despite the sprays intended purpose, Insys Therapeutics hoped to expand the drug’s target market to include the average pain patient. Defense attorneys have said that doctors often prescribe medications for a variety of off-label uses.
Brown claims she was trained to “drop the word cancer and talk about breakthrough pain in general.”
According to statistics from Insys, there have been at least 900 deaths tied to the drug since its approval in 2012. Fentanyl is approximately 80 to 100 times more potent than morphine and roughly 40 to 50 times more potent than pharmaceutical grade (100% pure) heroin.
There is currently a class action lawsuit against Insys related to deaths, injuries, and addictions caused by the drug. According to the lawsuit, Insys Therapeutics earned $147.2 million in the first half of 2015 from sales of Subsys alone, which accounted for more than 99% of the company’s total revenue.
In August 2015, Oregon’s Attorney General reached a $1.1 million Subsys settlement with Insys Therapeutics. A similar lawsuit was later settled by the state of New Hampshire in January 2017.
This week’s testimony was part of a larger federal investigation into unethical relationships between doctors and the manufacturers of drugs they prescribe. Some of the top drug makers in the world are accused of contributing to the current opiate epidemic, including Michael Gurry, Richard Simon, and Joseph Rowan. These executives are facing charges that range from racketeering and fraud to conspiracy and bribery.