Pharma Manager Indicted for Opioid Kickbacks Denied Medical Marijuana

Manager from company that spent $500K to defeat legalization develops an opioid dependence and wants to treat it with medical marijuana

Insys Therapeutics
Insys Therapeutics

In a case of two-parts karma and one part schadenfreude, a former pharmaceutical company sales manager who is under federal indictment for providing kickbacks to doctors who’d overprescribe his company’s opioid drug has been required to give up the medical marijuana he’s been recommended to overcome his own opiate dependence, according to reporting by Reuters.

Jeffrey Pearlman is a former sales manager for Phoenix-based Insys Therapeutics that manufactures SubSys, a fentanyl-based spray used sublingually for the treatment of severe chronic pain in cancer patients. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid referred to as 50 times more potent than morphine. It is also the subject of numerous lawsuits from families who claim Insys misrepresented the safety of Subsys, bribed doctors to overprescribe it, and promoted it for off-label (unapproved) uses.

Insys is also infamous in the marijuana community as the big pharmaceutical company that donated $500,000 in the campaign against the legalization of marijuana in Arizona. Not only did Insys’ half-million dollars help lead to the only defeat on Election Day for marijuana in nine states, but the company was rewarded by Trump’s DEA with a Schedule II designation for its new synthetic cannabinoid drug, Syndros.

Pearlman had earlier suffered a spine injury. He was prescribed opioid painkillers and soon became dependent on them. To kick the addiction, his New Jersey doctor recommended that Pearlman use medical marijuana.

That, in itself, is remarkable, as New Jersey’s medical marijuana law does not list opioid dependence or anything like it as a qualifying condition for the use of medical marijuana. There’s no indication Pearlman has ALS, MS, terminal cancer, IBS, Crohn’s, seizures, spasticity, glaucoma, PTSD, or a terminal illness. Pain is not a qualifying condition in New Jersey; it’s only referenced in the law as a symptom that makes HIV/AIDS or non-terminal cancer a qualifying condition (that’s right, AIDS or cancer alone won’t get you medical marijuana in the No Garden State, unless it hurts).

But while on bail for the federal indictment for bribing doctors to help get patients addicted to opioids, Pearlman will be subject to piss tests to determine whether he’s complying with conditions of his bail.

One condition is that he comply with all federal laws. One of those, of course, is that marijuana is a Schedule I substance that Pearlman is not allowed to use.

Pearlman’s attorneys argued that if he had to give up medical marijuana, he’d have to go back to using opioids. Doing that, they argued, would impair his ability to fully exercise his constitutional right to defend himself at trial.

Got all that? The guy from the company that fought to keep marijuana illegal so the company could profit from synthetic marijuana wants to keep using illegal marijuana, because being forced back onto the opioids would impair him so greatly it would violate his rights to defend himself against accusations that he helped bribe doctors to force people onto opioids so the company could profit.

Naturally, the judge ruled as she probably has for many medical marijuana patients who’d come before her asking to keep using their medicine. Marijuana is illegal federally, people on bail can’t break federal law and must take piss tests, end of story.

Or, not quite. The judge also added that Pearlman was making a “faulty assumption” that he’d be forced back onto opioids.

She wrote, “Other reasonable treatments exist; indeed, in states with no medical marijuana law or more restrictive laws, patients with defendant’s condition must use other forms of treatment.”

Man, it must really suck to be told by a judge that you’re not allowed to use your choice of a safer alternative painkiller compared to powerful, addictive opioids, huh, Mr. Pearlman? You’ll have to forgive me if I shed no tears for you; I used them all up for people in Arizona who can’t qualify for medical marijuana cards for opiate dependence and were counting on legalization to pass last year and save their lives.

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  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.