Chris Potter

Pharmaceutical company Insys, makers of the sublingual fentanyl spray Subsys, has donated $500,000 to the campaign working toward defeating Arizona’s recreational-use ballot initiative, according to a report by U.S. News & World Report. The amount is almost five times the second largest donation of $110,000 from the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid painkiller that is significantly more potent than heroin.

The company made the donation to the Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy on Aug. 31 and, according to the campaign’s manager Adam Deguire, the group has no intention of returning the contribution.

J.P. Holyoak, chairman of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, who back Proposition 205, said he was “truly shocked” by his opponents’ decision to keep the donation from “what appears to be one of the more unscrupulous members of Big Pharma.”

“Our opponents have made a conscious decision to associate with this company. They are now funding their campaign with profits from the sale of opioids – and maybe even the improper sale of opioids,” he said in a statement. “We hope that every Arizonan understands that Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy is now a complete misnomer. Their entire campaign is tainted by this money. Any time an ad airs against Prop. 205, the voters should know that it was paid for by highly suspect Big Pharma actors.”

In an Arizona Daily Star report, Deguire defends the decision to keep the funds; saying that his group believes that “all available medicines should meet the clinical standards set by the FDA.” The Subsys spray is FDA-approved, while cannabis remains a federal Schedule I substance “with no medicinal value,” according to the DEA. Deguire says the measure “fails to protect the safety of Arizona citizens, particularly its children.”

However, in just the last month, two former Insys employees pleaded guilty to federal charges related to an alleged kickback scheme to get physicians to prescribe the spray, and another lawsuit was filed against the company by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan alleging the company pedaled the drug to doctors for off-label prescribing.

“This drug company’s desire for increased profits led it to disregard patients’ health and push addictive opioids for non-FDA approved purposes,” she said in a statement announcing the suit.  

From 2011 until last year, Insys also sold a generic equivalent to Marinol — an FDA-approved THC synthetic for treatment of cancer and HIV-related symptoms. According to a July study from Health Affairs doctors in states with legal cannabis programs prescribe, on average, 1,826 fewer doses of painkillers per year.     

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