John Kapoor, a billionaire whose company developed a liquid version of the opioid painkiller fentanyl, was arrested in Phoenix on Thursday on charges that he spearheaded a scheme to bribe doctors and pharmacists across the nation to boost sales — largely to patients who did not need the medication.
The scheme was first described in December in an indictment against six executives at the company, Insys Therapeutics in Chandler, Ariz. The new indictment, unsealed Thursday in Boston, adds Kapoor, the 74-year-old founder who stepped down as chief executive in January, to the list of those accused.
His arrest highlights the role manufacturers and distributors of prescription painkillers play in the nation’s opioid crisis, which is killing more than 140 people each day.
The same day Kapoor was arrested, President Trump declared the opioid crisis a 90-day public health emergency.
The drug, Fentanyl Spray, is placed under the tongue and used to relieve pain in cancer patients. The company manufactured and started selling it in 2012.
Unhappy with sales, Kapoor and other executives soon embarked on the bribery scheme, which went on for more than three years, according to court documents.
Doctors were encouraged to prescribe the medication more frequently and at higher dosages, the indictment says. In 2013, about 1,900 medical practitioners wrote 90% of all the company’s product prescriptions.
Though the bribes, which included speaker fees, food, entertainment and administrative support to medical practitioners across the country, helped increase the company’s revenue, the court documents say, insurance agencies were reluctant to approve payment for the drug when it was prescribed to patients without cancer.
To get around this roadblock, Kapoor allegedly told employees to misrepresent the type of patients using the drug. Most prescriptions were given to people not diagnosed with cancer, according to the indictment.
“The allegations of selling a highly addictive opioid cancer pain drug to patients who did not have cancer make them no better than street-level drug dealers,” Harold H. Shaw, an FBI agent based in Boston, said in a statement. “Today’s charges mark an important step in holding pharmaceutical executives responsible for their part in the opioid crisis.”
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