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How Fentanyl Spray Maker Bribed Docs to Prescribe High Doses

Drug firm salesman Daniel Tondre was assigned to a pain specialist in Sarasota, Fl., who was one of the most prolific prescribers of the potent fentanyl spray called Subsys. Insys Therapeutics executive Alec Burlakoff wanted the doctor, Steven Chun, to prescribe more of the addictive and potentially deadly drug to meet his company’s goal. “My best chance of hitting this is for Dr. Chun to turn it on this week,” Burlakoff told Tondre. Insys pursued Chun and doctors like him as part of a multiyear effort to juice sales and bribe doctors willing to prescribe the company’s pain-relieving drug Subsys, reports USA Today. Insys remains the only drug marketer whose top executives were jailed as part of the opioid epidemic. On Monday, Chun was sentenced by a federal judge in Florida to three years and six months for charges of accepting bribes in the form of sham speaker fees from Insys. The doctor collected $278,000 that federal prosecutors described as kickbacks and bribes to prescribe the fentanyl spray for his patients. Tondre, an Insys sales rep also convicted in the bribery scheme, will be sentenced Dec. 15. The email exchange between Burlakoff and Tondre is among more than 760,000 emails and other documents released this week that show the company’s culture of greed, power and sales.

The documents shed light on the company’s intense focus on sales during daily 8:30 a.m. calls and frequent emails demanding sales reps prod doctors referred to as "whales" to prescribe Subsys to more patients in higher dosages to collect more money from insurers. The documents include transcripts from the executives' 2019 criminal trial and details about the company's center where employees learned to deceive insurers to get Subsys prescriptions covered. More than 8,000 people died after taking Subsys since 2012, federal records show. The company filed for bankruptcy in 2019 and its top executives went to jail — including founder John Kapoor, a once-billionaire entrepreneur who became the highest-ranking pharma executive to be jailed in the opioid crisis. In 2012, Kapoor when he hired an ambitious pharma sales veteran, Burlakoff, who laid out his plan to woo doctors who'd take lucrative payments in exchange for freely prescribing the fentanyl spray.

When he explained his vision during a job interview, Kapoor hired him on the spot. This exchange one decade ago fueled the meteoric rise of a small Arizona-based drug company whose executives touted success on financial news shows amid a climbing stock price and sales that exceeded $330 million in 2015.


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