Fentanyl Cheerleaders: How Insys Peddled its Products


There’s a great story in the Wall Street Journal today — “Fentanyl Billionaire Comes Under Fire as Death Toll Mounts From Prescription Opioids” — about how employees
of Insys Therapeutics reportedly “bribed doctors to prescribe the company’s painkillers.

Fentanyl, one of Insys’s painkillers, is essentially legal heroin — but up to 50 times stronger — and has fueled the national opioid epidemic. The billionaire refered to in the headline is the company’s sleaze Executive Chairman, John Kapoor.

The story said:

Insys paid its sales representatives base salaries of $40,000, well below the industry average, but offered them the chance to make many multiples more in sales commissions. The “cost-efficient” and “incentive-based” model was similar to that used by Dr. Kapoor at his previous companies, Insys said in its IPO prospectus…

Last year, Insys had its 250-person sales force target 1,700 doctors who prescribed the majority of fast-acting fentanyl in the U.S., with a particular “focus on the highest prescribers,” the company said in its annual report.

Successful sales reps were very well-compensated, some making more than $500,000 annually, because they received a percentage of the total cost of each prescription their doctor-clients wrote, according to people familiar with the matter and court records.

Insys also wined and dined doctors at strip clubs and hired a lot of attractive female sales reps — who had no medical or pharmaceutical background –to peddle their products, including at least two NFL cheerleaders. This, of course, is a time-honored tradition in the pharmaceutical industry, as this 2005 New York Times story shows.

I’ve been working on a story about the Insys sales force — upcoming — and found quite a few interesting cases. One of its “Oncology Specialty” marketers previously worked as a dance instructor and life insurance agent, and got hired by Insys while working as a football cheerleader. She’s currently working for the company while doubling as a dancer for a pro basketball team.

I’m not saying the employee did anything wrong but Kapoor’s firm doesn’t appear to have picked its sales reps on the basis of their medical expertise, as many similar hires show.


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Politically eclectic DC-based investigative journalist and CEO, Chief Sleaze Purveyor (CSP) and Creator of WashingtonBabylon.com.