New York (AFP) – Five Manhattan doctors have been indicted for accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes from a pharmaceutical company in exchange for prescribing a powerful synthetic opioid, a prosecutor said Friday.
The indictments come as the United States grapples with an opioid abuse epidemic that kills scores of people every day, and has been declared a national health emergency by President Donald Trump.
Two employees of Arizona-based drug maker Insys pleaded guilty and participated in the investigation that led to the arrest of the doctors.
The doctors “engaged in a malignant scheme to prescribe fentanyl, a dangerous and potentially fatal narcotic 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, in exchange for bribes in the form of speaker fees,” US Attorney Geoffrey Berman said in a statement.
“This scheme to use their patients as an instrument for profit has resulted in the indictment of five physicians,” he said.
The doctors were paid “fees” for allegedly conducting educational programs about a fentanyl-based pain relief spray, the statement said.
But “in reality, many of the speaker programs led by the defendants were predominantly social affairs where no educational presentation about the fentanyl spray occurred,” it said.
In exchange for the payments, the doctors prescribed “millions of dollars’ worth” of the spray.
Charges against the doctors include honest services fraud conspiracy, which carries a maximum of 20 years in prison.
Insys agreed last year to pay a $4.5 million fine after being accused of deceptive marketing to promote its “Subsys” fentanyl spray.
In 2016, more than 63,500 people died of drug overdoses in the United States, nearly two thirds of them involving prescription opioids.