Pharma faces different type of drug trial

White-collar crime may be conducted in executive suites or empty speaking halls, but its victims can all too quickly wind up in the same place as those killed by a knife or gun.

That’s one of the takeaways from a slew of ongoing cases against pharmaceutical companies accused of using sleazy or aggressive tactics to keep prescription pens flowing and sales figures up on dangerous opioids.

It can be hard to keep track of all the lawsuits and criminal cases. In today’s Boston Globe alone there are two stories and one column about pharmaceutical companies and their executives in the crosshairs of three different legal actions, and one story about the guilty plea of a heroin and fentanyl trafficker whose product killed a 34-year-old Melrose mother when she was fresh out of rehab at Taunton State Hospital.

Attorney General Maura Healey is suing OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma, run by Richard Sackler, who allegedly “micromanaged sales reps to make sure they were raking in enough money,” writes Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham. A doctor who would prescribe Purdue’s opioids could be a windfall, and Purdue’s sales reps targeted the 100 most prolific prescribers about 200 times each, according to Abraham.

In federal court, US Attorney Andrew Lelling’s prosecutors are presenting evidence in the criminal trial against five former executives of Insys Therapeutics, maker of Subsys, a fentanyl spray.

If Purdue’s sales reps were persistent, the Insys sales force crossed the line into criminality, according to prosecutors, wooing doctors with bribes masked as speaking fees where the audience was beside the point, which was to keep those doctors prescribing.

“I don’t care if people show up,” the vice president of sales said when a sales rep asked what do if no one showed up.

The case against Insys founder John Kapoor and four others has gained national attention, perhaps because of the public’s thirst for the C-suite to face consequences for the opioid addiction pandemic. That national attention is also helped, no doubt, by the sordid details emerging from the Moakley Courthouse.

On Tuesday, former Insys sales rep Holly Brown recounted how during a boozy night out she had seen Sunrise Lee, who was a regional sales director, “bouncing around” in the lap of Dr. Paul Madison, who accounted for the majority of Subsys sales in Illinois. Lee, who is one of the defendants in the trial in Boston, had a background as a stripper and as manager of an escort service.

There are some general similarities between the public relations strategies employed by both Purdue and the former Insys executives. Kapoor’s lawyers have taken issue with the purported linkage between Insys and the opioid crisis and accused prosecutors of perpetuating a “false narrative” in public statements about the case while foisting all the blame for criminality at the company on a cooperating witness for the prosecution. Purdue, meanwhile, said that Healey has “mischaracterized and cherry-picked internal documents,” according to Abraham.

Purdue, whose founding family was dissected by The New Yorker a couple years ago, is fending off legal actions on multiple fronts.

On Wednesday, Somerville joined the ranks of cities suing drug makers for their role in the crisis of drug addiction. Defendants in the suit are Purdue, Johnson & Johnson, and retailer Walgreens. City solicitor Francis Wright Jr. said there is evidence that opioid manufacturers and distributors “created the extraordinary crisis we are experiencing in Somerville.”

In that case, the company has relied on the approval its opioid medications received by the Food and Drug Administration.

“We believe it is inappropriate for the city to substitute its judgment for the judgment of the regulatory, scientific, and medical experts at FDA,” the company said.

In the case of both Insys and Purdue, some of the figures are staggering. According to the Washington Post, more than 900 people have died while using Subsys since it was approved in 2012. Healey reports that, since 2009, 671 people who have filled prescriptions for Purdue opioids later died of opioid-related overdoses.




The House engaged in a spirited debate about how it will run this term, but in the end nothing changed. (CommonWealth)

Joan Vennochi praises Gov. Charlie Baker’s new openness to taxes, but says it seals his fate as someone with no home in the national Republican Party. (Boston Globe)

Baker may, however, have a seat at the Super Bowl in Atlanta on Sunday. (Boston Herald)


Barnstable County Sheriff James Cummings has scheduled a community meeting to review his office’s partnership with federal immigration authority ICE. Legislation was recently introduced on Beacon Hill that would make such a program illegal. Cumming’s office referred 79 immigrants to ICE in 2018. (Cape Cod Times)

Westfield Mayor Brian Sullivan is calling it quits. (MassLive) Sulllivan’s decision could be a paradigm shift for politics in the community. (Western Mass Politics & Insight)

Two South Boston city councilors are slamming plans for a huge 1,344 condo redevelopment of the former Edison plant in the neighborhood. (Boston Herald)

With Mayor Daniel Rivera and the city council at loggerheads over staffing up the city attorney’s office, Lawrence now has only one attorney – Raquel Ruano – to handle up to 50 pending complaints by employees, 10 “slip and fall” lawsuits, and several other legal matters involving construction projects. (Eagle-Tribune)

Mayor James Fiorentini was among the Haverhill residents who discovered his street was not plowed Wednesday morning, and he is not happy about how his highway department handled the storm. “I told them the streets did not meet what I consider to be an acceptable level of service,” said Fiorentini, who believes the city should have called in plow contractors to supplement the department trucks. (Eagle-Tribune)

A Herald editorial pans the idea of levying a $5 congestion pricing fee on motorists entering downtown Boston.


Macy’s is closing nine stores nationwide, including one at the Swansea Mall. (MassLive)

The Brockton City Council has voted to extend a moratorium against the establishment of recreational marijuana shops until the end of February. The council will need to approve a final zoning ordinance.  (Brockton Enterprise)


Almost every school district on Cape Cod (except Mashpee) will take a hit to charter school reimbursement, according to preliminary estimates from the state’s Department of Revenue. (Cape Cod Times)

Vermont may be ground zero for the crisis rippling through US higher ed, with lots of colleges and universities facing an uncertain future. (Boston Globe)

Worcester schools are closed because of the cold. (Telegram & Gazette) Many schools in the Berkshires were either closing or opening later in the day. (Berkshire Eagle)


MassBio is cool to Gov. Charlie Baker’s plan for reining in the cost of some drugs. A panel discussion features an alternative, value-based approach for a mega-expensive gene therapy and testimony about the human benefits of high-priced treatments. (CommonWealth) A Globe editorial offers a good explainer of the issue, but never lands with a firm take on Baker’s plan. The head of MassBio, Robert Coughlin, lands on a very definite position in a Globe op-ed, calling Baker’s idea bad for the industry and bad for consumers.

The Beaumont Nursing Home in Westboro pays out a $1 million wrongful death settlement in the death of one of its residents. (Telegram & Gazette)


Pols who once supported the refurbishment of the 1940s-era Mattapan trolleys are changing their tune with the release of an MBTA analysis suggesting the historic vehicles have a lot of flaws. (CommonWealth) Bill Forry, the editor of the Dorchester Reporter and a big fan of the historic trolleys, applauds the T for its approach to the Mattapan line and calls the likely decision to transition to Green Line light-rail vehicles “a reasonable, fiscally prudent, and fair plan.”

Violent crime on the MBTA dropped 5 percent last year. (Boston Globe)


Electricity storage is coming into its own with the state’s new three-year energy efficiency plan. (CommonWealth)


Hanover doctor Dr. Ashok Patel has pleaded guilty to charges in Suffolk Superior Court after the Attorney General’s office said he created a scheme for patients struggling with addiction to pay him cash for treatment that was covered by state health insurance. Patel and his clinic Ambama Clinic were ordered to pay almost $16,000 in restitution to MassHealth members who he asked for cash for their substance abuse treatment despite the services being covered by insurance. (Patriot Ledger)

The Supreme Judicial Court upheld a judge’s ruling that barred defense attorneys from questioning witnesses about their immigration status, finding that just because someone is an undocumented immigrant doesn’t mean that person is less likely to be truthful. (WBUR News)

A Lawrence man charged with raping his 11-year-old great niece was beaten by fellow inmates in the Essex County jail in Middleton and has been moved to solitary confinement. (Boston Herald)


The Supreme Judicial Court will take up the Boston Globe’s lawsuit contending it should be granted access to records of closed-door hearings conducted by clerk magistrates. (Boston Globe)

WBUR unveils its new CitySpace venue for hosting town meetings and other civic gatherings. (Boston Globe)

Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan decries what she calls the “middle-lane” approach to journalism, which always seeks to give both sides of every issue. “It’s safe. It will never cause a consumer boycott. It feels fair without really being fair. And it’s boringly predictable,” she says.