Opioid Drug Maker Gives $500,000 to Oppose Marijuana Legalization

The latest polling out of Arizona on the marijuana legalization initiative Prop 205 shows it with a bare 50 percent support, against 40 percent opposed and 10 percent undecided. But today, opponents of legalization got a shot in the arm with the infusion of a half-million dollar donation to Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy, the campaign against Prop 205.

Insys Therapeutics
This is NOT what responsible drug policy looks like (Image: Insys Therapeutics)

That donation came from Insys Therapeutics. Their company makes nearly all of its profits from the highly-addictive opioid painkiller Fentanyl, a drug that’s been called 50-to-100 times more potent that morphine.

CNBC reported on Insys Therapeutics in an exposé entitled “The pain killer: A drug company putting profits above patients“:

(CNBC) According to criminal complaints, attorneys general reports and CNBC sources, specialty pharmaceutical company Insys Therapeutics — with the help of several physicians across the country now under investigation — is putting profits before patients as it makes millions off your pain.

Insys is subject to investigations regarding the sales and marketing practices of its main product — Subsys Fentanyl, a painkiller delivered as an oral spray — by both federal and state attorneys general offices in California, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Arizona and Illinois, according to its 10-Q filing.

Their sublingual Fentanyl spray comes in a 30-spray unit that costs $900 at the lowest dosage and $3,000 at the highest. In the first half of 2015, sales of this Fentanyl spray accounted for $147.2 million of Insys Therapeutics’ total $148.4 million in revenue. It is almost entirely the sales of this opioid painkiller that made Insys founder John Kapoor a billionaire for the first time in 2013.

Insys has been investigated for fraud in its efforts to push the drug beyond its intended audience of late-stage cancer patients in extreme pain. Oregon Assistant Attorney General David Hart negotiated a settlement with Insys, calling their conduct “among the most unconscionable that I’ve seen” with “harm done to patients on a level I’m not used to seeing.”

Among the accusations in the Oregon case were the pressuring of doctors to write Fentanyl scripts for migraine and neck pain, hiring a son to pressure his doctor father into prescribing the drug, and even sexual flirtation to entice physicians to offer more Fentanyl prescriptions to their patients. The Oregon AG’s report found that 78 percent of the prescriptions for Insys’ Fentanyl spray were “off-label” (not for end-stage cancer pain) usage.

yes-on-205Insys Therapeutics donating to anything called “responsible drug policy” is not an irony lost on Arizona Prop 205 campaign director, J.P. Holyoak:

“We are truly shocked by our opponents’ decision to keep a donation from what appears to be one of the more unscrupulous members of Big Pharma. You have a company using profits from the sale of what has been called ‘the most potent and dangerous opioid on the market’ to prevent adults from using a far less harmful substance. In addition to selling an extremely potent and dangerous opioid, they have been under investigation by numerous states and the federal government for the manner in which they have done so.

“Their homepage touts their development of ‘pharmaceutical cannabinoids,’ which are synthetic versions of chemical compounds found in marijuana. It appears they are trying to kill a non-pharmaceutical market for marijuana in order to line their own pockets.

“Our opponents have made a conscious decision to associate with this company. They are now funding their campaign with profits from the sale of opioids — and maybe even the improper sale of opioids. We hope that every Arizonan understands that Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy is now a complete misnomer. Their entire campaign is tainted by this money. Any time an ad airs against Prop. 205, the voters should know that it was paid for by highly suspect Big Pharma actors.”

Fentanyl is a Schedule II narcotic, so doctors all across the country can prescribe it. Cannabis is a Schedule I drug, but in Arizona, doctors may recommend it for medical use. States with greater access to cannabis show markedly-lower prescription rates for opioid painkillers. The responsible drug policy would be to substitute as much cannabis for opioids as medically possible. The only responsibility opponents of legalization live up to is to the shareholders of pharmaceutical and private prison companies and the paychecks of cops and rehab clinics.

Russ Belville
About Russ Belville 199 Articles
Russ Belville - or "Radical" Russ, as he is known on-air - hosts The Marijuana Agenda, a live news and talk radio program for the cannabis community, weekdays at 3pm Pacific on MJAgenda.com.  The show is based in Portland, Oregon, but "Radical" Russ has traveled over 300,000 air miles in the past five years, bringing his show to report live from hundreds of cannabis conferences, marijuana expos, hemp festivals, and legalization events in over 70 North American cities.