Pharmaceutical Executive John Kapoor Sentenced To 66 Months In Prison In Opioid Trial His sentencing is the culmination of a months-long criminal trial that resulted in the first successful prosecution of pharmaceutical executives tied to the opioid epidemic.


Pharmaceutical Executive John Kapoor Sentenced To 66 Months In Prison In Opioid Trial

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Yesterday afternoon, pharmaceutical executive and former billionaire John Kapoor was sentenced to 5 1/2 years in prison. Six other executives at the company he founded, Insys Therapeutics, also face prison terms for orchestrating a nationwide bribery scheme. This is the first time high-ranking drug company executives tied to the opioid epidemic are being sent behind bars. Gabrielle Emanuel of member station WGBH in Boston reports.

GABRIELLE EMANUEL, BYLINE: Insys Therapeutics developed a strong opioid painkiller for cancer patients, and then they set out to aggressively market it.


ANDREW LELLING: Out of pure greed, Insys executives, from John Kapoor on down, bribed doctors to prescribe this powerful, addictive drug to people who did not need it.

EMANUEL: U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling spoke outside the courthouse after the sentencing. Through the months-long trial, his office detailed how Insys paid doctors to write lots of prescriptions for their opioid, often at the highest dose possible. Patients got addicted and kept using their medication. Then Insys systematically lied to insurance companies, often pretending patients had a cancer diagnosis when they didn't. This was to ensure their drug, which could cost nearly $20,000 a month, was paid for.


LELLING: All so they can make millions of dollars at the expense of patients.

EMANUEL: Federal prosecutors painted a picture of a corrupt company where one executive on trial even gave a lap dance to a doctor to convince him to prescribe the drug and where Insys sales representatives made a music video about getting patients hooked.


Z REAL AND A BEAN: (Rapping) I got new patients, and I got a lot of them. If you want to be great, listen to my voice. You can be great, but it's your choice.

EMANUEL: In a rare move, the government charged the Insys executives criminally with racketeering, something usually reserved for mob bosses and drug lords, not corporate executives. Kapoor's defense attorneys maintained his innocence and said he was unaware of how others in the company were acting. But the jury returned guilty verdicts for all the executives. U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling.


LELLING: This was a landmark case in the government's effort to fight the opioid crisis.

EMANUEL: Still, federal judge Allison Burroughs overturned part of the jury's guilty verdict. And she gave the defendants just a fraction of the prison sentences the government sought. Kapoor, for example, received 5 1/2 years instead of 15 years.

BRAD BAILEY: That's still a very long prison sentence for a business person.

EMANUEL: Brad Bailey is a defense attorney and a former federal prosecutor who has been following the case closely. He says that the pharmaceutical industry sees this as a warning, both because executives will be serving time and because the company itself has struggled. Bailey expects more cases like this one.

BAILEY: I think this is just the tip of the iceberg.

EMANUEL: Even if there are more prosecutions, Harvard professor Ameet Sarpatwari says he expects many of the practices that led to overprescribing opioids and to addiction to continue.

AMEET SARPATWARI: A lot of the activities that you see within the industry that are effective are technically legal.

EMANUEL: He hopes the case will make other drug company executives reconsider pushing the legal boundaries.

For NPR News, I'm Gabrielle Emanuel in Boston.


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