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Drug Maker Faked Cancer to Sell Painkillers

The alleged scheme tricked insurance companies into buying a cancer pain drug for patients that didn’t actually have cancer.

Another week brings yet another scandal to the pharmaceutical industry – and this one is a doozy.

According to Gizmodo, Senator Claire McCaskill released a Congressional report last week that looked into wrongdoings by the drug company Insys Therapeutics, the results of which were criminal indictments against six former company executives.

So what could have been so bad, you might ask? Well, the shocking allegations detail a company scheme to trick insurance companies into paying for an opioid cancer pain drug for patients that – wait for it – didn’t actually have cancer.

According to the report, insurers regularly required pre-authorization for the use of Insys’s highly addictive drug Subsys, a sprayable form of fentanyl, because of its high costs. Insys is being accused of looking to expand the use of the drug when it determined it wasn’t selling enough of it to cancer patients, leading to a scheme that involved paying kickbacks to doctors and also to trick insurance companies into paying for its use in patients who didn’t have cancer.

Insys is said to have employed practices where its sales reps would mislead insurance companies by using a script which led insurers to assume they were calling from a doctor’s office. Using vague wording, the callers would lead insurers to believe the patients were dealing with cancer pain – without actually using the word cancer.

The report detailed many phone calls like this, one of which was on behalf of a patient who later died of a Subsys overdose.

The report also addresses a deliberate kickback scheme. One former sales rep says she taught other reps to try to target doctors who were “money hungry” and willing to take part in the illegal kickbacks to prescribe Subsys more frequently.

The Congressional report is said to be part of a broader probe into the practices of opioid manufacturers and also reviews companies like Purdue, Johnson & Johnson, Mylan, and Depomed. The six executives from Insys that were indicted have all submitted not guilty pleas.

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