Insys-paid physician faces loss of license as New Jersey aims to curb pharma's doctor payments

New Jersey officials are proposing limiting pharma companies' payments to doctors to $10,000 per year.

Insys has landed in plenty of hot water for promotions on the powerful opioid Subsys, but now authorities in New Jersey are targeting one doctor for his role in the alleged cash-for-scripts scheme.

Worse for the industry, the state is also pushing for new limits on how much compensation opioid prescribers can receive from pharma as it tackles a devastating opioid addiction epidemic. 

New Jersey Attorney General Christopher S. Porrino said on Thursday that his office is asking the state to revoke Kenneth P. Sun's license to practice medicine. Sun wrote illicit Subsys prescriptions in return for $136,768 in payments from Insys over several years, the AG's office says.

In making the case, Porrino's office cited emails the doctor received from Insys staff. In one email, an Insys rep told Sun to "keep them rolling," referring to a patient who'd just won insurance coverage for the pain drug. 

RELATED: 'Bribes,' 'kickbacks,' and 'fantastic' nights get ex-Insys CEO, execs indicted for conspiracy 

Insys' Subsys won FDA approval in 2012 to treat cancer-related breakthrough pain, but the company has come under fire for its aggressive off-label promotion. Insys faces numerous investigations and legal cases over its sales tactics; New Jersey announced its own lawsuit just this month. 

In conjunction with the Sun announcement, Porrino is calling for new regulations that limit pharma companies' contributions to doctors who prescribe opioids. The rules would limit those payments to $10,000 per year, according to NorthJersey.com. Under the proposal, doctors couldn't accept meals worth more than $15 and they'd have to disclose payment verbally or in writing for speaking at events.

Insys spent $1.32 million on speaking fees to doctors in 2016, according to a FiercePharma analysis of the Open Payments database published by the U.S. government. Sun himself collected about $40,000 in payments from pharmaceutical companies in 2013, $69,000 in 2014, $32,000 in 2015 and $6,000 in 2016, the database shows.

New Jersey doctors collected a total of $69 million from pharma and device companies last year, according to our Open Payments analysis. That number includes all doctors, not just opioid prescribers.

Immediately, doctors and pharma sales reps pushed back against the proposal, according to the publication, with one medical professional noting that there's no evidence the measures would help curb the opioid epidemic. The doctor payment proposal is part of a group of options under consideration in the state aimed at stemming the tide of the crisis. 

The proposal is subject to public comment until December and might change depending on feedback, according to the publication. 

Editor's note: Anthony DeBarros contributed data research for this story.