Drug Maker Taps Doctors with Questionable Ethics for Aggressive Drug Marketing Plan

If you are wondering how the cost of prescription medications has gotten so out of control, you need to look no further than how much manufacturers pay out to convince doctors to choose one medicine over the other.

Case in point: Subsys is an addictive painkiller manufactured by Insys Therapeutics of Arizona. The company went to great lengths in 2013 to spread the word about Subsys. Twenty of the doctors on Insys’ marketing gravy train are facing or recently faced legal action. A review of the electronic database that records gifts to doctors from drug companies revealed that Insys isn’t, perhaps, as careful as it should be in choosing its physician representatives.

  • Texas pain doctor Dr. Judson Somerville was paid $67,000 for speeches, travel and meals by Insys. However, it was recently determined that the doctor was already under investigation by the Texas Medical Board. Somerville was told to stop prescribing any painkillers in the fall of 2014 because it was discovered that he allegedly instructed employees to dispense pre-signed painkiller prescriptions for patients. According to court documents, three people died due to drug overdoses, caused by the prescriptions Somerville’s office handed out.
  • Another physician, Michigan neurologist Dr. Gavin Awerbuch, was also on Insys’ payroll. He was charged by US prosecutors recently of allegedly defrauding Medicare of $7 million when he improperly prescribed Subsys to patients who didn’t need to take it.
  • A third doctor, also an Insys marketer, Dr. Jerrold Rosenberg of Rhode Island was caught allegedly “inappropriately prescribing painkillers, including Subsys.”

It’s not unusual, nor illegal, for drug companies to pay doctors to speak with other physicians in an effort to promote certain drugs over others. However, when the money is paid for actually prescribing drugs, rather than promoting them, that’s a major problem. Additionally, it is especially egregious when drug companies pay doctors to doctors prescribe off label uses of drugs (meaning, the uses are not FDA approved).

Unfortunately, fines amount to little more than a slap on the wrist for drug companies. When the federal government settled claims of impropriety and collects billions of dollars in fines, that sounds great – until you realize that the drug companies made billions more than they had to pay in remuneration from drug sales!

Many drug companies build these types of settlements into their bottom lines, according to Eric G. Campbell, a Harvard Medical School professor of medicine. He studies conflicts of interest between drug companies and the physician community. At Harvard Medical School, who studies conflicts of interest between doctors and the drug industry. “It appears to be, you do whatever you have to do, and you know that eventually you will pay fines, but you will pay the fines and still make a lot more.”

Fraud is rampant throughout the United States medical community. Unearthing schemes to rip off the US government falls, oftentimes, to whistleblowers who learn information and are willing to bravely report what they know in an effort to stop the scams.

If you have information about a plan to defraud the government, you may have a whistleblower case. Contact the skilled qui tam lawyers at Begelman & Orlow for a consultation about your case.

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