Feds target illegal speaker programs

Federal and state authorities are pursuing pharmaceutical kickback schemes involving sham speaker programs, including one scheme in which doctors were paid thousands of dollars to prescribe a highly addictive fentanyl spray.

Two former employees of an Arizona pharmaceutical company were arrested last week for allegedly paying physicians for sham educational programs that that often led to social outings at bars and clubs, according to the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York. Although the federal indictment did not name the company, the New York Times has linked the employees to Insys Therapeutics. According to the indictment against former sales representative Fernando Serrano, on at least one occasion he took doctors to a strip club and paid for a private table with bottle service.

An indictment included emails sent by former district manager Jonathan Roper, urging sales representatives to push doctors to increase their prescriptions of the spray. During 2014, one doctor was paid as much as $147,245 dollars in speaking fees, which led to nearly $1.2 million in reimbursement for fentanyl prescriptions from Medicare Part D.

The indictments referenced several doctors that accepted payments, but did not name them. Patrick Burns, the executive director of Taxpayers Against Fraud, told the Times that the government was likely “zeroing in” on Insys as part of a “larger corporate hunt.” Government prosecutors have been more focused on corporate integrity and individual accountability since the release of the Yates memo last year.

That same day, the same U.S. Attorney’s Office announced a $54 million settlement with Salix Pharmaceuticals, which was acquired by Valeant Pharmaceuticals International in 2015, to resolve allegations the company held sham speaker programs at high end restaurants where a pre-made video was often ignored.

In the midst of an opioid epidemic, pharmaceutical manufacturers are facing investigations and lawsuits involving the marketing of opioids. In some cases, physicians have been charged with murder for overprescribing prescription painkillers.

For more:
- here’s the DOJ release
- read the New York Times article
- see the indictment against Roper
- here’s the indictment against Serrano