Opioid Epidemic: Doctors Charged with Taking Kickbacks for Fentanyl Prescriptions

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Opioids, in particular the synthetic opioid fentanyl, is a serious problem all over the United States. Though most medical professionals have adjusted the way they prescribe these drugs to prevent the opioid epidemic from growing, a handful of doctors in New York are perpetuating the issue. In March, prosecutors accused five doctors in New York with taking kickbacks to issue fentanyl prescriptions.

Opioids for Sale

Opioid Addiction Epidemic: Doctors Charged with Taking Kickbacks for Fentanyl PrescriptionsDoctors Jeffrey Goldstein, Gordon Freedman, Dialecti Voudouris, Alexandru Burducea, and Todd Schlifstein were charged two months ago in a federal court in Manhattan for accepting a bribe to prescribe larger amounts of Subsys, the synthetic opioid fentanyl. Prosecutors argued that Insys Therapeutics Inc., the company that manufactures Subsys (a sublingual synthetic opioid fentanyl spray), offered the doctors more money if they increased the number of patients for whom they prescribed Subsys. The money would be transferred through a fake “speaker’s bureau” that claimed the doctors were being paid for giving educational speeches on the drug. Many of these “speeches” were simply social gatherings at restaurants around Manhattan. They earned between $68,000 and $308,000 in kickbacks from the prescriptions.

Many of the doctors were already some of the top prescribers of the drug as well as promotional speakers for the company. Each doctor pleaded not guilty and was released on bail.

Along with the doctors, some of the top executives at Insys, including the founder, John Kapoor, are under indictment. All of the Insys employees have pleaded not guilty to participating in the scheme.

The Evidence

There are a testimony and substantial evidence that refute the doctors’ claims of innocence. A lot of the evidence lies in emails. Gordon Freedman, one of the accused doctors, received an email from an Insys sales representative that encouraged him to over-prescribe. The email stated: “I’d rather you put 20 (or more, of course LOL) new patients (commercially insured of course, as always) on it in April even if we wind up getting only 10-14 approved, rather than only have you go with the safe 6-7 that you think will all get approved.” Freedman emailed back “Got it.”

There are other emails that the doctors received explicitly asking them to focus on prescribing larger amounts of the opioid fentanyl by Subsys, disregarding the patients’ needs.

Along with the emails, two Insys employees, Fernando Serrano and Jonathan Roper, have come forward to testify. They were charged last year of an association with the bribery. They are both giving statements about the doctors’ roles in the scheme, and cooperating in the investigation.

Doctors Promoting Opiod Fentanyl

The five New York doctors charged with taking kickbacks each have a personal history with Insys and the drug.

Dr. Gordon Freedman 

Gordon Freedman, the recipient of the aforementioned incriminating email, is certified in pain management and anesthesiology with an office on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. He was already one of the top prescribers of Subsys in the country. Additionally, he was the highest-paid promotional speaker for Insys. Freedman received the most money for the kickbacks, pocketing $308,000 in what were called speaker fees. He earned more than $1 million in sales for Insys.

Dr. Jeffrey Goldstein 

Jeffrey Goldstein is an osteopath. He owned a private medical office on the Upper East Side. Insys paid him approximately $196,000 in claimed speaker’s fees. At one point, Goldstein began prescribing opioids from an Insys competitor. Insys pressured him to solely prescribe their opioid fentanyl spray and he agreed after making them send him a $9,800 check for a home security system. He created a fake invoice and never bought the security system.

The prosecution has stated that Goldstein did not even stay for dinner at some of the events where he was listed as the featured speaker. Before one of the events, he contacted an Insys sales representative wondering “‘Is dinner take out or are we expecting peeps?’”

Dr. Alexandru Burducea 

Alexandru Burducea married a sales representative for Insys. He lied to federal investigators about the marriage, claiming that they were simply dating, in an effort to avoid them linking his relationship to the amount he was prescribing.

Dr. Dialecti Voudouris 

The only female doctor charged, Dr. Dialecti Voudouris, had an Insys employee take a test for her so she would be eligible to prescribe Subsys. The employee she had to take the test was Fernando Serrano, the former Insys employee who was charged a year ago and is now cooperating with investigators against the doctors.

After she became eligible to prescribe the drug, Insys claimed that she was not prescribing enough. Jonathan Roper, the other employee charged last year, wrote an email to sales representatives claiming that they were overpaying Voudouris because of the few patients she had prescribed the synthetic opioid fentanyl.

Dr. Todd Schlifstein 

Todd Schlifstein was a Manhattan doctor who co-owned a private medical office with Goldstein. The prosecution claims that he went to a strip club with fellow doctor Goldstein, Jonathan Roper, Fernando Serrano, and another unnamed Insys employee. The bill was $4,100 and Insys covered the entire charge.

The Opioid Crisis

Prescription drug addiction has become an epidemic across the United States. Drug overdoses have recently become the leading cause of death for all Americans under the age of 55. Naloxone, a drug that counters an opioid overdose, has seen a 500% increase in sales. Though lawmakers are working on legislation, they have not yet been able to reverse the explosion in opioid use. Part of the difficulty is that many big pharmaceutical companies are perpetuating the issue, profiting from both opioids and anti-opioids.

Opioid abuse is now considered an epidemic, and it affects people of all backgrounds, cultures, races, and economic standing. Experts and lawmakers are scrambling to find a way to stop the alarming spread of the problem. If you, or a loved one, is battling opioid addiction help seek help immediately. 

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