25 May West Palm Beach woman sues Insys over ‘turbo-charged fentanyl’ – News – The Palm Beach Post
Iliana Haddock is the first Palm Beach County resident to sue Insys Therapeutics, which saw its executives convicted of racketeering conspiracy for bribing doctors to prescribe Subsys,its fentanyl spray.
Iliana Haddock, suffering from failed lower back surgery and an array of other serious conditions, simply wanted something to manage her pain.
Instead, like thousands of Americans, she ended up on the fentanyl spray Subsys, a medication intended for end-stage cancer pain and never approved for long-term use.
She didn’t know the manufacturer, Insys Therapeutics, was paying doctors across the country millions of dollars to prescribe the medication for a panoply of ailments. Or that the criminal scheme of its executives took root in Palm Beach County.
READ: The Fentanyl Scandal – How a former Boca school counselor used strippers to peddle fentanyl
She didn’t know patients were dying and becoming addicted while Insys posted record profits. What she did know was the medication was wreaking havoc with her digestive system. But by the time she was able to wean herself off the drug, the damage was done.
“It’s the reason I have a colostomy bag for the rest of my life,” said Haddock, who had to have G.I. surgery in 2018.
Haddock sat down with The Palm Beach Post soon after five executives of Insys Therapeutics, including the founder of the company, were convicted of racketeering in Boston this month.
The jury heard how Insys plied doctors with cash, women, lavish dinners and other perks in order to get them to prescribe Subsys “off label” even though the FDA had approved it only for end-stage cancer pain.
She filed suit in Palm Beach County Circuit Court in December. She alleges that Insys didn’t provide adequate warnings to doctors and their patients without terminal illness that Subsys could cause gastrointestinal disorders among other side effects ‒ including death.
RELATED: ‘Game changer’ – Executives of fentanyl company found guilty of RICO
Unsuspecting patients prescribed Subsys ended up dead. A Palm Beach Post investigation, The Fentanyl Scandal, found more than 900 deaths in which Subsys was the primary suspect in “serious adverse events” reported by the company to the FDA over a five-year period.
According to Insys’ financial statements, two dozen patients have sued. Then there are the millions of dollars the company paid in settlements to federal and state governments. Insys now says it may have to declare bankruptcy.
Recognized dancer in rap video
Haddock has also seen the surreal rap video where the head of sales at Insys dressed up as a Subsys spray bottle of the highest dose. It encouraged sales reps to get doctors on the payroll to get patients on the highest dose, which brought in the most revenue.
Prosecutors played the video during the criminal trial this year in Boston.
Haddock recognized a dancer in the rap video: It was an Insys sales rep who showed up in her doctor’s office.
The video, for Haddock, brought home the depravity of Insys, which routinely had sales reps in doctor’s offices pushing patients toward its product, according to numerous court documents.
“It was heartbreaking,” she said. “I mean they are talking about increasing the dosages on a patient without any regard other than the more you take, the more money I make.”
Haddock started out on 200 micrograms in 2013 and was quickly increased to 1,600 micrograms through 2015, said her attorney, Joe Johnson, said. The initial recommended dose by the FDA to a person already on opioids 24 hours a day is a 100 micrograms.
Haddock’s prescribing physician is Dr. Bart Gatz of Greenacres. Gatz was the seventh highest paid doctor in the country by Insys to promote the spray at speaking events, earning $229,000 between August 2013 and 2015.
Gatz said he was initially one of 10 unnamed “co-conspirator practitioners” in the criminal indictment against the Insys executives and managers. He was subsequently dropped in a superseding indictment and has denied any wrongdoing.
Gatz said, unlike other physicians who have been prosecuted, his slideshow presentations for Insys promoting Subsys to other doctors were legitimate. He is not a defendant in the Haddock lawsuit.
Also named as a defendant is My Community Pharmacy of Boynton Beach, which declined to comment.
“Had the pharmacy taken appropriate steps it would have known it was dispensing an extremely dangerous narcotic to a class of patients who was not supposed to be exposed to the unreasonable dangers associated with this medicine,” Johnson said.
Gatz, according to a separate whistle-blower lawsuit, did receive other perks, including outings to night clubs and a shooting range on Insys’ dime.
Former Boca resident pleads guilty
Federal prosecutors have said that for the most part, though, the Insys speaking program was simply a means for the company to put money into doctors’ pockets in order to get them to prescribe Subsys.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Subsys only for end-stage cancer pain. But former Boca Raton resident Alec Burlakoff, Insys’ vice president of sales, the company insisted physicians prescribe it for back pain, migraines, Crohn’s disease and other ailments, according to court documents.
Insys hired unqualified sales representatives who once were employed as exotic dancers, models and cocktail waitresses.
Burlakoff has pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy and is scheduled to be sentenced in September. So is Sunrise Lee, the Insys regional manager who used to dance at Rachel’s Gentlemen’s Club in West Palm Beach. She was convicted in April along with Insys founder John Kapoor and three other executives.
Johnson wants to depose them both. “We may need to spend a little bit of time in the prison system talking to the former Insys employees, who are nothing more than street level drug dealers,” he said.
He called Subsys “turbo-charged fentanyl” and adds that the threat of bankruptcy is another attempt by Insys to avoid responsibility for its criminal acts.
Haddock stands as a testament that the drug was not designed for long-term use. She had to undergo multiple surgeries and complications due to the effects of high doses of fentanyl on her digestive track, she said.
“This was supposed to be patients who unfortunately have terminal cancer,” Johnson said. “No one anticipated it would be used on a chronic basis or as a maintenance drug.”
Haddock suffers from several chronic conditions. Besides the lumber problem, she suffers from joint disorders, fibromyalgia and a spinal condition. To live her life, Haddock must have effective pain management.
She decided to seek out a pain management doctor after working with her other physicians receiving cortisone injections and nerve blocks. “I felt I needed someone who could work with my rheumatology physician,” she said.
‘If you didn’t take it,
you were going to suffer’
Haddock started on Subsys in 2012 and it quickly became a problem as her dosages were increased.
“It affected my daily life,” she said.
Haddock said Subsys affected her appetite because of the nausea. She ended up dehydrated, lost weight and muscle mass and found herself running out of breath.
She lost her “ability to be organized or stay on task or even remember things.”
Her husband, Ray Carter, said the decline was remarkable. He wondered whether she would ever live a normal life again.
“As the dosage increased, her need for the medication increased,” he said. “She could not go for a period of time without suffering significant withdrawal symptoms.”
Haddock said Subsys wore off quickly and if she didn’t take another dose she would start sweating, vomiting and shaking.
“If you didn’t take it, you were going to suffer the consequences,” she said.
Some patients prescribed Subsys ended up so addicted they turned to street drugs and became homeless.
“I know that I am very lucky,” Haddock said. “I don’t know if I metabolized it differently. I read about individuals who were on the same dosage that I was and I don’t know how I woke up the next day.”
Haddock said for the chronically ill patients, already suffering, the last thing they need is a medication like Subsys causing havoc in their lives.
She wants to speak up for those who didn’t become full-blown addicts but are suffering because of the crackdown on painkillers due to the behavior of companies like Insys.
“So they can tell their story and not be ashamed and take the stigma off of chronically ill patients who needed opiates and were entrapped in this practice,” she said.