Massachusetts Federal Court Convictions Finally Punish The Real Drug Pushers In Opioid Crisis

As a Massachusetts drug crimes defense attorney, I have watched for years as countless citizens have been arrested and prosecuted for a wide variety of Massachusetts drug offenses – the majority of them needless prosecutions caused by the now half-century old “War on Drugs” that the federal government has used hundreds of billions of our tax dollars to “fight”.  As a Boston drug crimes lawyer, I can assure my readers that this “War” has always been, and remains to this present day, a massive waste of taxpayer money, time and effort.  Criminalizing drugs does nothing but create black markets, which creates drug lords, which creates crime, which causes violence, ruined lives and death.  It is a very simple formula, with a very simple, predictable result:  Destroyed lives, wasted money, and endless individual destruction.  But it pays for a lot of police and other government jobs, doesn’t it?

Exhibit ‘A’ on this point?  The decades-long prohibition on marijuana (cannabis).  If the average person had any idea of how many peoples’ reputations, academic & educational prospects, careers and lives were ruined because they were arrested and prosecuted for using this harmless, non-addictive, non-toxic, and even medically beneficial substance, they would (hopefully) never vote again for any politician, federal or state, who continued to support such pathological approaches to drug policy.

So, especially when it comes to the devastating opioid crisis gripping this country, who are the real criminals?  Look no further than the multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical industry – one of the major players that make up corporate America.  Here in Boston, a ray of light appeared recently with the prosecution and conviction of senior executives within a pharmaceutical company called Insys.  Insys manufactures and markets a powerful opioid painkiller called “Subsys” – a prescription drug (fentanyl) developed to treat severe pain in cancer patients.  So, what’s wrong with that?  In one inevitable word,  greed.  You see, ‘Subsys’ costs a lot of money –  as much as $19,000 per month for some cancer patients (which health insurance companies and Medicare are billed for.)  What did federal prosecutors allege was going on inside this major pharmaceutical company?  Here’s a short list:

  • Bribing doctors to needlessly prescribe the drug to patients who really didn’t need it.
  • Constructing elaborate payoff schemes to funnel tens of thousands of dollars to ‘cooperating’ doctors who pushed the highly addictive drug to patients in the form of “speaking fees” for “medical education seminars” that never took place.
  • Hiring very attractive young women to make sales calls on male doctors, who would be more likely to agree to prescribe the drug to patients. The tactic of hiring very attractive female sales reps even extended to hiring a stripper (“exotic dancer”) to perform lap dances with male doctors at sales presentations of the drug.

Even worse and more base than the above?  A 2015 video where someone dressed as a giant bottle of ‘Subsys’ danced around a stage, singing a rap song about why doctors should prescribe the drug.  Who was in this costume in the central role in this pathetic event?  The company’s V,P. of Sales, Alec Burlakoff.  As a Boston criminal defense attorney, I’ve seen a great deal.  But this is both juvenile and pathetic – and reflective of the downright insulting and equally pathetic pharmaceutical TV ads we all are subjected to on network and cable channels every day – complete with cartoons of people shaped as plumbing pipes for bladder control medications – and tens of other equally insulting and pathetic ads.

Last week, a federal jury in U.S. District Court in Boston convicted John Kapoor, the President of Insys, as well as Alec Burlakoff, the former V.P. of Sales, as well as four  others of several charges, including racketeering and conspiracy.

Kapoor and the other defendants were convicted of developing the elaborate schemes to bribe doctors across the U.S. to prescribe the drug, which was intended for use only by cancer patients suffering from severe pain.  Opioid overdoses in the United States killed nearly 400,000 people in the U.S. between 1999 and 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. An additional, estimated 2 million people in the U.S. are addicted to these drugs, covering prescription painkillers such as OxyContin and illegal drugs such as heroin.

Did those facts stop this pharmaceutical company and these individuals from doing what they’ve been convicted of?  No.  Why?  M-o-n-e-y.  It’s what fuels and drives Big Pharma and other Big Corporate players in America. Pretty sick, huh?  “Subsys” may as well have been a shortened version of “Subsisting off the misery of addicted patients.”

Kudos to federal prosecutors for bringing this prosecution.  However, what really needs to change in this country’s drug policies, is not just one case where corporate defendants are brought to justice, but rather our entire legal and criminal justice approach to the issue of drug use:  Addicted drug users should not be treated as criminals, but as sick, addicted individuals who need to be treated medically – in hospitals, not prisons.  And as a Massachusetts drug charges defense lawyer, I’ll say it again:  We need to stop the criminalization of drug use, and cease the long-ago proven failure of this pathetic, useless and destructive “War on Drugs.”