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Caught on Tape: Pharma Rep Lies to Patient Who Later Overdoses on Fentanyl

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Photo by Getty Images

Deborah Fuller will testify soon in Washington about the reprehensible roll Insys Therapeutics played in her daughter’s overdose death last year.

“Basically, you know, they set her up to die,” she explained.

And Fuller has proof: A 2015 audio recording of a drug industry representative pretending to work for the doctor who was treating her daughter Sarah.

On the recording, the drug rep can be heard misrepresenting Sarah’s diagnosis so that she could receive one of the most powerful and deadly opioids on the market: fentanyl-laced Subsys.

Why? The drug the caller was pushing—approved only for cancer patients—costs over $20,000 a month.

In Sarah Fuller’s case, taxpayers would foot the bill, which came to more than a quarter-million dollars because Sarah was disabled and covered by Medicare.

Enter Senator Clair McCaskill, who has been investigating the roles of five pharmaceutical manufacturers, including Insys Therapeutics, in connection the country’s rampant opioid epidemic.

That recording, reports the Inquirer, is the most explosive part of a report McCaskill released about the actions of Insys, which is accused of setting up an entire department to divert calls and feed insurance companies false details about patients in order to qualify them for a drug approved for cancer pain. The caller lied and repeatedly referred to Subsys, a sublingual spray, as a breakthrough pain drug.

Fentanyl recently soared to the top of the list of opioid killers in the United States and is officially fueling the opiate crisis. Used in the production of Subsys, fentanyl is estimated to be 50 times as powerful as heroin.

Though it is still viewed as a legitimate painkiller, fentanyl can and is made and distributed illegally. Cartels from China produce and ship it; dealers in the U.S. mix it with heroin and other drugs, lowering their cost and increasing their potency.

Insys made the phone call barely a year after a consultant warned the drug maker that it lacked the needed policies for governing such activities. Insys executives failed to take corrective actions.

“There were no steps taken to put some kind of quality control process in place. Which, to me, is the sign of a company that wasn’t really interested in fixing the kind of problem that you see in this phone call,” McCaskill said in a recent press conference, “since the audit uncovered it and they did nothing to address it at that point.”

Details of both the phone call and McCaskill’s report demonstrate what is already a disturbing picture of the unchecked and deceptive marketing practices that are coming to light now in the dozens of criminal cases and civil lawsuits involving unethical drug makers, like Insys.

Sarah Fuller, a year or so after the recorded phone call, was found unresponsive in her home.

A toxicology report found fentanyl in her blood.

Sarah’s mother said she will never forget the recorded phone from the Insys sales rep.

“I still hear that [recording] in my head,” Fuller said. “Basically, you know, they set her up to die.”

Sarah was meant to get married the following August.

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