Attorney general sues pharmaceutical company over marketing of morphine-like drug

By Dawn Geske | Sep 27, 2016

CHICAGO – A lawsuit has been filed by the Illinois attorney general against a pharmaceutical company for alleged deceptive marketing and selling of an opioid described as more powerful than morphine.

Attorney General Lisa Madigan filed the lawsuit against Insys Therapeutics for its Subsys drug, which is intended to treat cancer patients. According to Madigan, Insys is allegedly improperly marketing the drug to doctors who prescribe high levels of opioid drugs, rather than oncologists who treat cancer patients.

Madigan said her concern over the alleged improper marketing of Subsys focuses on the abuse of prescription opioids, which can later turn into addiction to heroin, as it is a cheaper drug with similar effects.

“In our area, we have a lot of individuals that start out on pharmaceutical drugs and once they are off of it, they’re still addicted to it, so they might switch to heroin because it’s cheaper,” James Golding, president of the Illinois Association of Addiction Professionals, told the Cook County Record. “There’s responsibility by drug manufacturers to market a drug properly. Unfortunately, the drug companies are making these opiate drugs, and I don’t think they are being held accountable for the abuse that’s going on with these drugs by the individual user. They’re making major dollars off the drug and there’s very little coming back in the treatment field for that.”

In Madigan’s lawsuit, she claims that an investigation occurred into the marketing of Subsys by Insys as a broad-use pain medication for pain management of chronic pain such as back or neck pain. Madigan maintains that Insys did not have FDA approval to use the drug in this way.

“A drug is manufactured for one reason but is marketed for many,” said Golding. “Even though you’re using it for cancer, the word gets out that it also works for this type of pain management. It doesn’t matter if you market it to the oncologists. It’s still going to be prescribed to other individuals because it works.”

Madigan also claims that Insys encouraged doctors to prescribe Subsys in high doses regardless of the Food and Drug Administration’s mandate to prescribe the lowest effective dose. In her investigation, it was revealed that doctors were allegedly rewarded by Insys for prescribing Subsys for non-label uses, in the form of payments for speaking events and expensive dinners.

“Sometimes it’s not the drug manufacturer,” said Golding. “It’s the doctors. We’re too quick to prescribe medicine when there are other alternative areas to handle the pain.”

In a statement released by Madigan, she revealed that Dr. Paul Madison, an anesthesiologist in Illinois, wrote 58 percent of the prescriptions for Subsys – the most in the state. Of that 58 percent, more than 98 percent of Madison’s prescriptions for Subsy didn’t relate to cancer pain. Madison was indicted by the office of the attorney general for allegedly billing insurers for procedures he didn’t perform.

Through her lawsuit, Madigan is looking to stop Insys from selling its products throughout Illinois. She is also looking to impose penalties against the company for violating the Consumer Fraud Act. She is also investigating other pharmaceutical companies that produce opioid drugs.

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