Lawyers for a former Insys executive implicated in an alleged kickback scheme figure jurors may have strong feelings about the use of highly addictive painkillers. They are asking that prosecutors not be allowed to use the term “opioid crisis” during his trial.
The request was made to a federal judge that will hear the case of Jeffrey Pearlman, Reuters reported. Pearlman is a former district sales manager for Insys and among the former employees of the company charged in the case which alleges doctors were enticed to prescribe its high-power painkiller Subsys.
The defendants, which include Insys founder and billionaire John Kapoor, have denied the charges. The filing Wednesday suggested that “rampant media attention” from use of opioids in the country could make it impossible for Pearlman to get a fair trial.
“This prejudice would only be amplified if the government were to elicit testimony or make arguments regarding the opioid crisis or the over-prescription of opioids,” the lawyers argued.
Pearlman’s trial is slated for early February but both sides are seeking a four-month delay, Reuters reported.
The opioid crisis has been in the national spotlight for some years, including during the 2016 presidential election. States have filed lawsuits against drugmakers and wholesalers, accusing them of contributing to the problem and seeking to recover some of their costs of dealing with the fallout.
Furthermore, many people know someone who has been affected. According to the CDC, opioid drugs, including heroin and fentanyl, killed more than 42,000 people in 2016, more than any year on record. Of those, 40% involved a prescribed opioid.
Subsys is a fentanyl-based drug that is sprayed under the tongue, approved to treat cancer pain. Pearlman and others Insys employees face kickback charges stemming from hundreds of “sham” speaking programs designed to induce doctors to prescribe the drug for that, and off label, for other pain. Federal investigators said that the events were typically “just a gathering of friends and co-workers where no educational component took place.”
To disguise the events as legitimate speaking programs, sign-in sheets were forged, with Pearlman's knowledge, the feds alleged in court documents. The sales manager received sales bonuses that earned him as much as $95,000 in a single quarter in 2013, the complaint against him claimed.
While the individual cases play out in federal court, Insys’ new management is trying to move past the fallout from the alleged misdeeds. Insys has extended an offer to settle a Justice Department investigation of the company and set aside $150 million to cover the cost.
With the expense, the company recorded a net loss of $166 million in the third quarter.