New Jersey sues Insys as opioid maker settles with Massachusetts

BOSTON (Reuters) - New Jersey on Thursday accused Insys Therapeutics Inc of engaging in a fraudulent scheme to boost sales of a fentanyl-based cancer pain drug, as Massachusetts announced a $500,000 settlement with the drugmaker to resolve similar allegations.

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The lawsuit by New Jersey Attorney General Christopher Porrino accused Insys of illegally directing its sales force to push prescriptions of Subsys for a broader range of patients than the opioid drug was approved for, and at higher doses.

The lawsuit, filed in Middlesex County Superior Court, alleged Insys also paid kickbacks, including sham speaker fees to medical practitioners to prescribe Subsys and defrauded insurers into paying for it.

The lawsuit said Insys’ greed put hundreds of lives in jeopardy and led to the 2016 overdose death of a New Jersey woman who was prescribed Subsys to treat fibromyalgia.

“The conduct alleged in our lawsuit is nothing short of evil,” Porrino said in a statement.

The lawsuit came as Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey announced Chandler, Arizona-based Insys would pay $500,000 to resolve similar allegations.

“Fentanyl is a powerful and highly addictive drug with deadly consequences, yet this opioid maker aggressively marketed its product and made illegal payments to providers to boost sales,” Healey said in a statement.

Insys did not immediately respond to a request for comment. It did not admit wrongdoing as part of Healey’s settlement.

Insys has found itself at the center of investigations focused on Subsys, an under-the-tongue spray intended for cancer patients that contains fentanyl, a highly addictive synthetic opioid.

Those probes have come amid a national opioid abuse epidemic. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says opioids were involved in over 33,000 deaths in 2015. The death rate has continued to rise, according to estimates.

In December, federal prosecutors in Boston charged six former Insys executives and managers, including ex-Chief Executive Michael Babich, with engaging in a scheme to bribe doctors to prescribe Subsys and defraud insurers.

All six have pleaded not guilty.

Federal charges have also been filed in several other states against other ex-Insys employees and medical practitioners who prescribed Subsys.

Insys has said it is working toward a settlement with the U.S. Justice Department and has taken steps to strengthen its compliance program amid probes related to former employees.

It previously has paid $8.95 million to resolve investigations by attorneys general in Oregon, New Hampshire and Illinois, and is facing a lawsuit by Arizona.

Editing by Bernadette Baum