Top executives of opioid company found guilty of racketeering

John Kapoor, the billionaire founder of Insys Therapeutics Inc, arrives at the federal courthouse in Boston, Massachusetts, US, on January 28, 2019.
John Kapoor, the billionaire founder of Insys Therapeutics Inc, arrives at the federal courthouse in Boston, Massachusetts, US, on January 28, 2019.PHOTO: REUTERS

BOSTON (NYTIMES) - A federal jury on Thursday (May 2) found the top executives of Insys Therapeutics, a company that sold a fentanyl-based painkiller, guilty of racketeering charges in a rare criminal prosecution that blamed corporate officials for contributing to the nation's opioid epidemic.

The jury, after deliberating for 15 days, issued guilty verdicts against the company's founder, the one-time billionaire John Kapoor, and four former executives, finding they had conspired to fuel sales of its highly potent drug, Subsys, by not only bribing doctors to prescribe their product but also by misleading insurers about patients' need for the drug.

The verdict against Insys executives is a sign of the accelerating effort to hold pharmaceutical and drug distribution companies and their executives and owners accountable in ways commensurate with the devastation wrought by the prescription opioid crisis.

More than 200,000 people have overdosed on such drugs in the past two decades.

Federal authorities last month for the first time filed felony drug trafficking charges against a major pharmaceutical distributor, Rochester Drug Cooperative, and two former executives, accusing them of shipping tens of millions of oxycodone pills and fentanyl products to pharmacies that were distributing drugs illegally.

And the state attorneys general of Massachusetts and New York have recently sued not just Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, but also members of the Sackler family who own the company - and who have largely escaped personal legal penalties for the company's role in the epidemic, culpability they deny.

Also on Thursday, the state of West Virginia reached a US$37 million (S$50.42 million) settlement in a lawsuit against the McKesson Corp, one of the nation's leading drug distributors, which was accused of shipping nearly 100 million doses of opioids to residents over a six-year period.

Experts said the Insys verdict could encourage other corporate prosecutions and said it demonstrated that the public was willing to mete out penalties for high-level executives at companies profiting from the sales of highly addictive painkillers.

"Just as we would street-level drug dealers, we will hold pharmaceutical executives responsible for fuelling the opioid epidemic by recklessly and illegally distributing these drugs, especially while conspiring to commit racketeering along the way," said Mr Andrew E. Lelling, the US attorney in Massachusetts who pursued the case.