POLITICS & GOVERNMENT

NJ sues fentanyl drug maker INSYS for role in opioid crisis

BY Brenda Flanagan, Senior Correspondent |

The drug called Subsys is a fast-acting spray form of the powerful opioid fentanyl. In a four-count lawsuit filed Thursday, New Jersey’s attorney general charged the drug’s manufacturer, INSYS Therapeutics with consumer fraud stating “blatant disregard for the law” that put “hundreds” of lives in jeopardy and “led to the death of at least one New Jersey resident” — 32-year-old Sarah Fuller of Camden County. Attorney General Chris Porrino called it “titanic greed … nothing short of evil.”

“Increasing profits and defrauding customers is bad enough. And, doing so while putting the residents of New Jersey at risk makes it even worse,” he said.

Porrino explained, INSYS aggressively marketed the highly-addictive drug for broad patient use, even though the FDA had only approved Subsys for cancer patients in terrible pain. He charged the company with “flooding the market with a fentanyl product 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine …” The complaint states that, as part of its marketing ploy, INSYS plied doctors with “sham speaking and consulting fees …” and other illegal kickbacks.

“We are investigating a number of physicians who have prescribed this substance. One of those doctors has already been suspended,” said Porrino.

Porrino said, INSYS “regularly misled” health insurers to help get coverage and payment for Subsys prescriptions. It claims INSYS sold more than $74 million worth of Subsys in New Jersey between 2012 and the third quarter of 2016.

“We’re looking to recover money. We’re also looking to send a message,” continued Porrino.

Experts on opioid addiction have long pointed to over-prescribed meds as the first wave in America’s ongoing opioid epidemic. The National Institute of Drug Abuse notes 80 percent of new heroin users first got hooked on prescription medications. Sixteen hundred people died of opioid overdoses in New Jersey last year. The death toll rises steadily, and advocates like Angelo Valente applauded Thursday’s lawsuit.

“I think the lawsuits will give us an opportunity to really understand, first of all, how these drugs are marketed, what the consequence of that marketing was, and how we need to be able to re-educate not only the public, but also our medical community about the dangers of opioids,” said Valente.

INSYS did not respond to requests for comment. The Arizona-based drug maker faces similar lawsuits filed by federal prosecutors in several states and by the state of Arizona. Attorney generals in 10 states have also sued Purdue Pharma, which makes OxyContin, another powerful opioid. New Jersey reportedly might sue Purdue as well. Former Mississippi Attorney General Mike Moore’s now an adviser in several lawsuits.

“If these companies want to clean up the mess that they’ve caused, they need to come to the table soon and sit down and try to figure out a way to resolve all this and contribute to the solutions,” said Moore.

Moore wants more states to get involved, and welcomed New Jersey.

“I think it’s very important because of its size, and also because many of the companies who make these drugs are in that general area, so I think it would really help the litigation for them to join,” he said.

New Jersey’s lawsuit asks for maximum civil penalties for each of three violations of the Consumer Fraud Act and three times the state’s actual damages for violations of the False Claims Act. It also asks for illegally-gained profits to be paid back, which could mean tens of millions to finance New Jersey’s battle against opioid addiction.