Opioid Marketing: Rap, Kickbacks, and Erotic Lap Dances
ARIZONA – February 19, 2019
A rap clip motivated sales representatives for the pharmaceutical company Insys Therapeutics to sell doctors enlarged dosages of the opioid Subsys spray(fentanyl sublingual spray), which is highly addictive, as was revealed during the trial of the Insys founder, American billionaire John Capur.
The video, Great By Choice, was initially shown during a nationwide sales conference in 2015. THe video suggests increasing dosages through a process known as titration. For participation in the scheme, doctors across the country received millions of dollars in kickbacks.
NEW: Here's the internal Insys video to the tune of A$AP Rocky's "F--kin' Problems" in which employees dance around former sales VP Alec Burlakoff, who is dressed as a life-size bottle of fentanyl spray. It was shown to a jury in Boston federal court today. pic.twitter.com/0SPIEDRpnX— Aaron Leibowitz (@aaron_leib) February 13, 2019
And Part 3, in which Burlakoff is revealed under the costume. He pled guilty to a scheme to bribe doctors to prescribe the spray. CEO Michael Babich, who also pled guilty, was testifying today when the video was shown. Five others, including founder John Kapoor, are on trial. pic.twitter.com/aUR9hCrk4z— Aaron Leibowitz (@aaron_leib) February 13, 2019
At the end of the video, the person dressed up as the bottle of Subsys spray reveals himself as then-vice president of sales, Alec Burlakoff.
Salespeople also read lyrics to the song F--kin’ Problems by a$AP Rocky: "I love the titration. Yeah, that's not a problem. I got new patients and I got a lot of them."
Sales managers earlier confessed to organizing the bribing of doctors to discharge the spray to patients. Director Michael Babich also confessed.
In addition, Burlakoff pleaded guilty last fall to racketeering and could soon testify against Kapoor.
The video is the latest evidence in the trial, which has put a spotlight on the federal government’s efforts to crack down on the opioid crisis. Next to be investigated are John Kapoor and other sales managers.
All of them are charged with drug fraud (it is classified as racketeering — extortion by providing paid services to solve the problem that the racketeers themselves created).
Kapoor's attorney, Beth Wilkinson told jurors earlier that Burlakoff was solely responsible for the criminal activity. She said also Burlakoff and the government's other key witness, former CEO Michael Babich, are liars who are trying to take down Kapoor in the hopes of getting a smaller sentence.
The process is essentially indicative — it is intended to demonstrate the U.S. authorities’ efforts to combat the country's opioid crisis. In particular, the problem is already so serious that it has become one of the main reasons for the cessation of the growth of life expectancy in the United States.
Opioid dependence reportedly often begins because of addiction to drugs that doctors prescribe.
Insys sales representatives used interesting methods to bribe physicians. Last month, an employee told the court that she saw her boss — regional sales Manager Sunrise Lee — give a lap dance at a Chicago club to a doctor who promised to up the amount of Subsys spray going to his patients.
Wilkinson, in turn, said in defense of her client that Burlakoff and Babich were allegedly the only ones responsible for the incident.
Babich pleaded guilty in January and told jurors last week that Kapoor pushed to get patients on higher doses to increase sales. Babich also said that Insys specifically recruited sales representatives who were "poor, hungry and driven." Insys also recruited employees who were "easy on the eyes," he added.
"No physician wanted a quote-unquote unattractive person to walk in their door," he said.
In 2016 alone, Insys paid doctors more than $2 million in kickbacks. In total, since 2012, when it was allowed to sell Sabsis to cancer patients, about 900 people have died from its use.
This is one of those cases when market mechanisms generate monsters, and then the state cannot (and sometimes doesn't want to) cope with these monsters.
Even if they condemn not only the perpetrators but also the owners of the company for the maximum period of time, it will not affect the fight against the epidemic of opioid dependence in any way.
It's likely that the real authors of the most effective scheme of "planting American society on a needle" will never be punished: the major international consulting firm McKinsey&Company, which prepared a 2009 report for the pharmaceutical Purdue Pharma company, which pointed out how to work with doctors and patients to increase the annual sales of the opioid OxyContin at $200-400 million.
To date, at least 36 U.S. States have sued Purdue Pharma for fraudulent sales practices. The number of lawsuits will probably bury the company. However, McKinsey consultants may well get off with a slight fright.