A pharmaceutical company, Insys Therapeutics, is accused of bribing doctors and offering kickbacks in exchange for opioid prescriptions. That’s sadly not unusual. What is unusual is that Insys produced a rap video featuring a dancing Fentanyl bottle.
No, we aren’t kidding. This isn’t an Onion article or a Last Week Tonight sketch. This is a real video produced by a real opioid producer.
The video showed suit-clad sales reps rapping about the virtue of a process known as titration — the process of incrementally increasing the dosage of medication to find the adequate dose that provides the most benefit for the least side effect. The video attempts to make this sound cool.
The video was shown at a 2015 sales meeting to encourage employees to talk doctors into prescribing higher opioid doses.
“I love titration, yeah, that’s not a problem. I got new patients and I got a lot of ’em,” rap the performers. “Build relationships that are healthy. Got more docs than Janelle’s got selfies.”
The part of the dancing Fentanyl bottle was played by former Insys Vice-President of sales Alec Burlakoff. Burlakoff has pleaded guilty to bribing doctors.
“What we built here can’t be debated. Shout to Kapoor for what he created,” the sales reps rap. “The competition just making noise. We’re making history because we’re great by choice.”
Kapoor refers to Insys’ founder John Kapoor, who alongside four other executives — including a former exotic dancer hired as a regional sales manager with no pharmaceutical experience — are presently on trial.
The video, titled “Great by Choice,” was revealed to jurors as part of that trial in Boston.
This is a real trial happening in Boston this week..
As ludicrous as this story may sound, there are real consequences to Insys’ behavior. More than 130 people die daily in the United States from opioid overdoses. The government argues that businesses like Insys fuel that crisis.
“It really is a day of reckoning,” said Richard Hollawell, an attorney for the parents of a New Jersey woman who died of an overdose in 2016 using the medication Subsys to treat severe cancer pains.
Another lawsuit argued that Sarah Fuller died after an Insys employee posed as an employee of Fuller’s doctor in order to convince a pharmacy benefits manager to authorize Subsys — a cancer pain opioid — to treat fibromyalgia.
“These are normal, everyday, hardworking people who go to a pain clinic because they are suffering from chronic pain and they fell into this trap,” said Michael Rainboth, an attorney who has brought multiple lawsuits against Insys.
Both sides of the Kapoor case are prohibited from communicating with media by judicial order. At the moment, Kapoor is only being sued, but Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) wants to pass legislation that would jail executives like Kapoor.
Even the absurdity of a dancing Fentanyl bottle can’t make light the behavior of which Insys stands accused.
Katelyn Kivel is a contributing editor and senior legal reporter for Grit Post in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Follow her on Twitter @KatelynKivel.