“He was already a billionaire when this started, and this made him even richer,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Nathaniel Yeager at big pharma drug dealer John Kapoor’s trial. On Thursday, the Insys Therapeutics founder saw the price of that greed. After pleading not guilty, Kapoor was convicted of orchestrating a criminal conspiracy and sentenced to five and a half years in jail. 

To date, pharmaceutical industry-encouraged, elevated rates of opioid abuse have claimed some 400,000 lives in the United States. In 2017, 68 percent of the 70,000 people who died from a drug overdose perished from opioid abuse.

76 year old Kapoor was the CEO of an Arizona drug company that sold Subsys, an oral fentanyl spray. The drug is every bit as addictive as it sounds. Executives were proven to have been aware of the disastrous effects the spray was taking on patients. But as court documents show, from 2012 to 2015 they employed underhanded techniques to convince doctors to prescribe the drug at high levels, and were unafraid to use bribes, sexual attention, and outright deceit to get the job done. 

The Insys executives were tried under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act [RICO], which rarely has been wielded against kingpins in supposedly legal industries. Many of those tried under RICO have been cartel or mob bosses. 

Seven others from the company found themselves named as defendants, and all were sentenced to jail time. Michael Gurry, former vice president and Richard Simon, national director of sales, each got 33 months. Former CEO Michael Babich got 30 months. Regional sales director Joseph Rowan was sentenced to 27 months. Alec Burlakoff, vice president of sales, received 26 months. Sunrise Lee, regional sales director, was sentenced to serve a year and a day.

But prosecutors had asked for much longer sentences — in Kapoor’s case, 15 years. The mother of a woman who overdosed on Subsys was incensed by what she saw as the Insys executives getting off easily compared to the weight of their crimes. 

“They all got away with murder because that’s exactly what they did because it’s more than Sarah that died from it,” said Deb Fuller, who attended Kapoor’s sentencing at a Boston courthouse. Fuller testified during the trial that her daughter’s death had left her family in “constant, agonizing grief.” 

Big Pharma Pushers Held Accountable

Some hope that the court’s precedence of jail time for executives responsible for the deaths of the opiate crisis will mean other offenders are brought to justice. 

“I think this is just the tip of the iceberg,” former federal prosecutor Brad Bailey told NPR. “It’s a template that prosecutors will continue to use.”

US Attorney Andrew E. Lelling shared that sentiment in a written statement he released in response to the sentencing; “Just as we would street-level drug dealers, we will hold pharmaceutical executives responsible for fueling the opioid epidemic by recklessly and illegally distributing these drugs, especially while conspiring to commit racketeering along the way.”

That may not be enough to get back all the lives lost to the opiate crisis, but it’s a good step towards holding some of the nastiest high level criminals in our society accountable.

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