You might think that your doctor writes you prescriptions for medications based solely on your medical condition and the proper treatment, but that may not be the case. Reports show that some physicians are receiving “kick-backs” from pharmaceutical companies for writing certain prescriptions – all in the name of marketing – and that some of these drugs are causing death.
The Subsys Conundrum
Subsys is essentially an intranasal version of the opioid pain medication known as fentanyl, and it is the protégé of a company called Insys Therapeutics. While designed for the treatment of breakthrough pain in cancer patients, more and more physicians are prescribing it for off-label use. This is incredibly concerning since the Center for Disease Control, or CDC, reported that some 175,000 people died between 1999 and 2010 due to prescription opioid abuse. Only 120,000 people died from cocaine and heroin overdoses combined during that same period – an obvious indicator of the danger of potent opioid painkillers.
One Doctor’s Story
Dr. Orlando Florete received a sum of $18,874.03 from Insys Therapeutics during the last five months of 2013. What’s more, according to Freedom of Information Act documents, Dr. Florete also received $133,770.36 from TRICARE, the main insurance plan for the US military, for writing 16 prescriptions for Subsys. Astonishingly, it is perfectly legal for pharmaceutical companies to compensate physicians for recommending and discussing their products, including during very carefully worded seminars.
The Growth of Insys Therapeutics
Insys grew from $15.5 million in sales to over $222 million in just two years, raising many eyebrows. Speculation about Subsys is resounding, and while the company claims their organic growth is aided by growing numbers of physicians who increasingly prefer Subsys, despite the fact that the providers of pharmacy benefits refuse to cover the drug in all but a select few cases. Subsys sales are indeed growing – but not in a way that is beneficial to the patient. Instead, the product is increasingly lethal, especially in patients who take it for off-label conditions like headaches. The insert that comes inside the package clearly contraindicates the use of the drug for headaches or in patients who have very little opioid tolerance, yet physicians still prescribe it, and people are dying.
The Role of Insys
What is even more startling is the fact that Insys seems to use sex appeal to convince doctors to prescribe Subsys to patients who are not the right candidates. Insys purposely hires attractive females to sell their medications, and these women have no experience whatsoever in the pharmaceutical industry. In fact, some come from adult entertainment backgrounds. These women learn to explain the products, to listen, and to spend time with physicians, ultimately imploring them to prescribe more of the medication. It seems that the ploy works, and this explains the phenomenal jump in Insys’ sales during that two-year period.
No matter which way you look at it, there are people in the US taking Subsys who absolutely do not need it, and for some of these people, the drug could prove fatal. However, with a unique sales force, a program in which physicians speak at seminars about the drug to convince their fellow doctors of its efficacy, and a stream of cash ready to be doled out to prescription writers, it seems that the only way the trend will stop is with legal intervention.