Top Executives at a Major Opioid Maker Were Just Found Guilty of Racketeering

Insys used a sham speaker program and sex appeal to sell more drugs.

Insys founder John Kapoor at a federal court in BostonSteven Senne, File/AP

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.

On Thursday, a Boston jury found executives of Insys, a pharmaceutical company known for its fentanyl-based painkiller, guilty of a scheme involving bribing doctors to prescribe the potent opioids and misleading insurance companies about patients’ need for the drugs. Company founder John Kapoor and four others were convicted on racketeering charges. The case is just one of thousands of cases in municipalities across the country alleging that opioid makers planted the seeds of today’s devastating overdose epidemic, but the Insys case was closely watched in part because of its strangely salacious details.

Former sales director Alec Burlakoff, who testified for several days after cutting a plea deal, said Kapoor asked job candidates whether they preferred “loyalty” or “integrity”—since the former indicated a willingness to “go along with our scheme to bribe doctors to prescribe.” To boost sales, the company ran a sham speaker program used to funnel cash to doctors, who would in turn prescribe more—and higher doses of—the prescription drugs. 

During the trial, government prosecutors played a video made for a 2015 sales meeting showing Burlakoff, dressed as a bottle of the prescription fentanyl product Subsys, dancing and rapping about dosage level to the tune of A$AP ROCKY’s “F**kin’ Problems.” The prosecutors also read an email that Burlakoff, who pleaded guilty to one count of racketeering conspiracy, wrote saying that patients on higher doses were preferable because they “will continuously refill their monthly prescriptions indefinitely.” The New York Times noted that OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma allegedly pursued a similar strategy, according to court filings in a separate case. 

Sex appeal was another selling point for Insys: One sales rep said she was instructed to “behave more sexually toward pain-management physicians, to stroke their hands while literally begging for prescriptions.” Sunrise Lee, a former exotic dancer who was among the executives convicted, was said to have given a doctor a lap dance at a club. As Mother Jones previously reported, Burlakoff allegedly defended the decision to hire Lee in 2012, claiming, “Doctors really enjoyed spending time with her and found Sunrise to be a great listener.” He added, “She’s more of a closer.”

Sentencing dates weren’t set for the convicted executives. The company recently announced to investors that it is at risk of going out of business; a recent tax filing noted, “Heightened attention on the use of opioids, including government litigation changes in policies, legislation and leadership at the federal and state level, could hinder or prevent the commercial success of Subsys.”

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate