MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Minnesota is suing an Arizona drug maker.
The lawsuit accuses Insys Therapeutics of Arizona of aggressively pursuing doctors in Minnesota to get them to prescribe a powerful painkiller meant for cancer patients.
The drug Subsys is made with the opioid fentanyl. The FDA approved it to treat extreme pain in cancer patients, but as WCCO learned, the lawsuit alleges the drug maker targeted other patients and their doctors in an effort to make more money.
It is a form of fentanyl that is sprayed under the tongue so cancer patients can get relief from extreme pain.
The lawsuit describes how Insys executives gave their sales people orders to expand the market.
“It went out and it found physicians who were not oncologists, who were anesthesiologists or family doctors, to prescribe the drug to patients who did not have cancer,” said Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson.
And they were asked to prescribe the highly-addictive drug at doses much higher than approved by the FDA. Emails from company executives to the sales staff detail the pressure they put on them to get more doctors to write prescriptions for Subsys.
“They are talking in such cavalier, crass ways about patients, calling patients ‘annuities,’ you know, saying you could ‘win big’ if you prescribe this drug, and it involves a highly-potent form of a very dangerous product, fentanyl,” Swanson said.
The investigation found 17 Minnesota doctors prescribed Subsys to patients, but it was two in particular who wrote the most prescriptions. The lawsuit claims Insys paid those two doctors nearly 43,000 in speaker fees.
“This company set up a speaker program here in Minnesota and around the country, which we allege is basically a sham speaker program,” Swanson said. “It was a way to get around these kind of laws and pay payments to doctors to incentivize them to prescribe this particular drug. They consistently began writing Subsys prescriptions within weeks of joining the speakers program and getting these payments.”
The two doctors who wrote the majority of the prescriptions for Subsys were not identified by the attorney general’s office, but she did say they have been referred to the Minnesota Medical Practices Board for disciplinary action.
There are nine other states that are also suing Insys.