Five New York doctors have been charged with participating in a bribery and kickback scheme involving prescriptions for the highly addictive painkiller fentanyl. The prescriptions were for the fentanyl-based drug Subsys, made by Insys Therapeutics Inc (NASDAQ: INSY).
Subsys, a spray form of fentanyl, was approved in 2012 for use in patients who have cancer and have constant pain not alleviated with round-the-clock use of painkillers. However, a study by research firm Symphony Health found that just 1 percent of prescriptions for Subsys were from oncologists. Fentanyl can be deadly if used by someone who has not already become tolerant to opioids.
According to a federal indictment unsealed in Manhattan, Insys paid the accused doctors handsomely in return for prescribing millions of dollars’ worth of the painkiller product, with some receiving more than $100,000 annually. Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, said in a statement that the defendants “engaged in a malignant scheme to prescribe fentanyl, a dangerous and potentially fatal narcotic 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, in exchange for bribes in the form of speaker fees.”
Gordon Freedman, of Mount Kisco, N.Y.; Jeffrey Goldstein of New Rochelle, N.Y.; Todd Schlifstein of New York City; Dialecti Voudouris of New York City; and Alexandru Burducea of Little Neck, N.Y. have all been charged in the case. All five defendants have pleaded not guilty in federal court and have been released on $200,000 bond.
In 2014, Dr. Freedman, practicing on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, had become one of the country’s top prescribers of the painkiller drug. He had also become the company’s highest-paid promotional speaker for Subsys, purportedly giving educational presentations about the drug.
The indictment charged that many of the speaking engagements were mere social gatherings at high-end Manhattan restaurants. Authorities said attendance sign-in sheets were often forged to include the names of health care practitioners who did not attend.
Federal authorities have brought charges against Insys’s founder and former chief executive John Kapoor as well. Several other top executives and sales managers have also been indicted. Two former Insys employees have pleaded guilty and are cooperating with the federal investigation. Earlier this month, Rhode Island doctor Jerrold Rosenberg was sentenced to more than four years in prison for taking kickbacks from Insys.