NJ rep for ‘evil’ pharma company bribed docs for opioid scripts
MIDDLETOWN — A former sales rep for a pharmaceutical company being sued by the state for its role in the opioid epidemic has admitted bribing doctors to prescribe the highly addictive drug.
Township resident Michelle Breitenbach, 38, admitted to being part of a scheme by Insys to bribe doctors in order to get them to prescribe the fentanyl-based painkiller Subsys. In return for prescribing the drug, the doctors received kickbacks and bribes, which were described as "speaker fees," according to state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal.
The events the doctors were paid to speak at were nothing more than "free meals at expensive restaurants," and the doctors were paid whether they spoke at the event or not.
In pleading guilty, Breitenbach said the company's management would put pressure on sales reps to promote the events and that the payments they received were really as a reward for their prescriptions.
"When doctors receive improper incentives to prescribe drugs, self-interest can cloud or supplant their medical judgement, with dangerous results, particularly when a risky, addictive opioid like Subsys is involved," said Veronica Allende, director of the state Division of Criminal Justice.
Last year the state filed a lawsuit against the company claiming that Insys was attempting to force doctors to prescribe Subsys for chronic pain even though it was only approved for cancer patients who were not getting relief from other opioids. Former Attorney General Chirstopher Porrino called the company's tactics "nothing short of evil."
"We contend that the company used every trick in the book, including sham speaking and consulting fees and other illegal kickbacks, in a callous campaign to boost profits from the sale of its marquee drug Subsys," Porrino said at the time. The company has also been sued by Airzona and Illinois, settling with the midwest state for $4.5 million.
Breitenbach is scheduled to be sentenced on July 6. Under the terms of her plea agreement she could be sentenced to up to five years. Her attorney, Nicholas Harbist, declined to comment when reached by New Jersey 101.5.