A pile of pharmaceutical pills spilled onto several $20 bills.

Chris Potter

Insys Whistleblower Instructed to Lie to Boost Opioid Prescriptions

In an interview with NBC News, a former Insys Therapeutics sales rep turned whistleblower alleges that she was instructed to get the opioid-based drug Subsys to patients who should not have had access to it.

Insys donated $500,000 to Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy – an anti-cannabis legalization group – during last November’s General Election. Arizona’s bid to legalize cannabis for recreational use was the only statewide cannabis-related referendum defeated by voters during the election. In March, the Drug Enforcement Administration approved the company’s cannabis-based drug Syndros for Schedule II status under the Controlled Substances Act.

Subsys is an oral spray that contains fentanyl, which runs anywhere from $3,000 to $30,000 for a 30-day supply.

Patty Nixon, the former employee who was fired after she stopped showing up to work due to guilt over the lying, said her responsibilities included contacting insurance companies on behalf of doctors and patients in order to get Subsys approved and paid for by the companies.

Nixon claims that her supervisor told her ways to trick insurers into believing the approval was “medically necessary” and she would make up oncology records that didn’t exist and provide insurance companies with specific diagnosis codes, whether the patient had the condition or not.

“What I did, I was instructed to do, I was trained to do,” Nixon said in the interview. “If I didn’t do it, I was going to be in trouble.”

Insys markets the drug – which is 100 times more powerful than morphine – as a breakthrough drug for cancer pain. The Food and Drug Administration approved the drug only for cancer patients whose suffering can’t be relieved by other pharmaceutical narcotics. In the last five years, almost $1 billion worth of Subsys has been sold.

In a statement, Insys said that there were “approximately 54,000 total” prescriptions of Subsys in 2015 and 34,000 in 2016, comprising less than .04 percent of all opioids in those respective years. In 2016, the company sold $240 million worth of Subsys.

“Accordingly, Insys does not believe it (or its fentanyl product Subsys) has contributed to the national, opioid epidemic in any material way,” the statement says, adding that the company “has a comprehensive compliance program in place with protocols and monitoring” to ensure compliance with regulations.

Former Insys CEO Michael Babich was indicted by a grand jury in December for racketeering, conspiracy, and fraud. Five other former company executives have also been indicted for racketeering. All have pleaded not guilty.

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