Insys Therapeutics founder John Kapoor was convicted May 2, becoming the first pharmaceutical boss to be found guilty in a case linked to the U.S. opioid crisis.
A Boston jury found him and four colleagues conspired to bribe doctors to prescribe addictive painkillers, often to patients who didn’t need them.
The former billionaire was found guilty of racketeering conspiracy for his role in a scheme, which also misled insurers.
Tens of thousands of deaths have been caused by opioid overdoses in the United States.
Indian-born Kapoor founded the drug-maker Insys Therapeutics in 1990 and built it into a multi-billion dollar company.
The jury found Kapoor had also misled medical insurance companies about patients’ need for the painkillers in order to boost sales of the firm’s fentanyl spray Subsys.
The court heard that Kapoor — who was arrested in 2017 on the same day President Donald Trump declared the opioid crisis a “national emergency” — ran a scheme that paid bribes to doctors to speak at fake marketing events to promote Subsys.
During the 10-week trial, jurors were also shown a rap video made by Insys for its employees, on ways to boost sales of Subsys.
Kapoor and his co-defendants Michael Gurry, Richard Simon, Sunrise Lee and Joseph Rowan face up to 20 years in prison.
A statement from Kapoor’s lawyer said he was “disappointed” with the verdict. The men denied the charges and have indicated that they plan to appeal.
Forbes listed Kapoor’s net worth as $1.8 billion in 2018, before dropping off the publication’s billionaire rankings this year.
His conviction marks a victory for U.S. government efforts to target companies seen to have accelerated the opioid crisis.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that opioids — a class of drug which includes everything from heroin to legal painkillers — were involved in almost 48,000 deaths in 2017.
The epidemic started with legally prescribed painkillers, including Percocet and OxyContin.
It intensified as these were diverted to the black market. There has also been a sharp rise in the use of illegal opioids including heroin, while many street drugs are laced with powerful opioids such as Fentanyl, increasing the risk of an overdose.
Alan Gluck, a Yale law professor, said, “the case paints a picture of the kind of troubling industry practices that helped fuel the opioid epidemic.”
During the 10-week trial, federal prosecutors detailed Insys’s audacious marketing plan, which included paying doctors for sham educational talks and luring others with lap dances, to spur sales of Subsys, an under-the-tongue spray approved to treat patients with cancer.
With the drug’s sales soaring, Insys became a darling of Wall Street, generating annual sales, at one point, of more than $300 million.
There have been nearly 218,000 overdose deaths related to prescription opioids since OxyContin was introduced in 1996, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The first conviction is a hugely important landmark in this horrific tale that has needlessly cost so many lives and caused so much agony among families.
The sad question: Why did it take so long to get to this point?