KOLD Investigates: AZ Attorney General receives $500,000 in settlements with Scottsdale, Tucson doctors over opioid prescriptions
TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - The Arizona Attorney General’s Office has reached settlements with two doctors who allegedly accepted bribes from a Chandler-based opioid manufacturer.
Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich claims those health professionals prescribed highly-addictive drugs to people who did not need them.
Brnovich announced that his office obtained consent judgments with Dr. Nikesh Seth, a Scottsdale-based pain management doctor, and Dr. Sheldon Gingerich, a Tucson-based pain management doctor.
According to a news release, the settlements requires both doctors to pay a combined sum of more than $500,000 to resolve the claims made by the office that the doctors took hundreds of thousands of dollars in “speaker fees” from Chandler-based Insys Therapeutics in exchange for prescribing Subsys, an opioid prescription drug that contains fentanyl.
Last year, the company’s former vice president of sales admitted he unlawfully used the Insys speaker program to compensate doctors for prescribing Subsys.
Subsys contains Fentanyl and is one of the most potent drugs a doctor can prescribe. It is 100 times more powerful than morphine.
“The Subsys spray comes in doses that are so strong one squirt could easily kill somebody who is not accustomed to taking opioids. These are lethal weapons,” said Andrew Kolodny, the co-director of opioid research and Brandeis University.
The Food and Drug Admission approved Subsys for the management of pain in cancer patients.
In the consumer fraud lawsuit, Brnovich, claimed the doctors wrote copious amounts of Subsys prescriptions to patients who did not need them. He said the company made millions from its, “deceptive scheme, but put countless patients in harm’s way, exposing them to unacceptable and unnecessary risks of addiction and death.”
According to the lawsuit, 64% of the company’s Subsys sales in Arizona came from prescriptions written by only three doctors, Gingerich, Seth and Dr. Steve Fanto out of Scottsdale.
According to Open Payments, a national transparency program that collects and publishes information about financial relationships between the health care industry and providers, Gingerich received more than $43,000 in payments from Insys. In 2015, Open Payments reported Insys paid Gingrich more than $26,000.
State prosecutors say from roughly 2013 to 2015, Insys paid Gingerich at least $80,000 to influence him to prescribe Subsys and increase the number and dosage of prescriptions he wrote.
Under the settlements, Dr. Seth must forfeit $229,000, and pay an additional $145,000 to Arizona. Dr. Gingerich must forfeit more than $80,000, and pay more than $50,000 to the State.
According to the settlement, Seth is prohibited from receiving any money or gifts from any prescription drug makers, sellers, or promoters for the next ten years. Seth denied any unlawful or wrongful conduct and the Consent Judgement will not be considered an admission of guilt.
According to the proposed Consent Judgment with Gingerich, the Tucson doctor will be barred permanently from prescribing controlled substances, taking money from pharmaceutical companies, or keeping compensation received for practicing medicine.
In the document, Gingerich denies all allegations, but agreed to the settlement to avoid the expense and uncertainty of further litigation.
“People put a sacred trust in their doctors, especially when they’re prescribing opioids,” said Brnovich. “We will hold accountable everyone who violated that trust and improperly profited from Arizona’s opioid crisis.”
The AGO’s lawsuit continues against one other Arizona doctor and John Kapoor, the founder and former President of Insys.
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