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Drug Company Founder Gets 5 Years in Prison for Bribery Scheme to Boost Opioid Profits

Insys Therapeutics founder John Kapoor leaves federal court on January 23, 2020, in Boston.
Insys Therapeutics founder John Kapoor leaves federal court on January 23, 2020, in Boston.
Photo: Getty Images

John Kapoor, the founder of Arizona-based drug company Insys Therapeutics, was sentenced to just over five years in prison Thursday, far short of the 15 years that federal prosecutors had asked for after he was first found guilty in Boston last year.


Kapoor’s company was found guilty of paying bribes to health care professionals in an effort to expand its sales of opioid medication, Subsys, expanding its customer base to people who would become easily addicted to the painkiller. The fentanyl-based spray sold by Insys was intended for cancer patients with severe pain, but investigators found that the drug company engaged in a criminal conspiracy to offer bribes and kickbacks to health care providers willing to prescribe the medication to people who didn’t need it.

Insys was also found to have lied to insurance companies to make sure that they would cover the medication, which cost roughly $19,000 per month, according to investigators. Prosecutors wanted Kapoor to receive much more prison time than he would up getting.


“He was the principal leader, who personally approved, and thereafter enforced, the corrupt strategies employed throughout the conspiracy,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Nathaniel Yeager said, according to USA Today. “This crime would not have happened, could not have happened, without John Kapoor. It was, in almost every way, Kapoor’s crime.”

The judge in the case, Allison Burroughs, ultimately went relatively easy on Kapoor. Burroughs reportedly cited Kapoor’s philanthropy and advanced age as two reasons for giving him a relatively light sentence. Kapoor is 76 years old and donated enough money to the University at Buffalo that he has a building named after him and his late wife, John and Editha Kapoor Hall.

Other members of the criminal conspiracy, including Insys sales chief Alec Burlakoff, have been sentenced to relatively light terms in prison as well. Burlakoff was sentenced to just 26 months.

America’s opioid epidemic has killed over 400,000 people since 1999.

Some victims reportedly asked the judge to give Kapoor the maximum sentence of 15 years because they saw him as a drug trafficker who set them on the road to addiction. Prosecutors are seeking roughly $113 million in forfeiture and restitution from Kapoor, who expressed remorse for his actions in court.


“I am heartbroken by the words of the patients,” Kapoor said, according to the New York Times. “I sincerely apologize to them.”

Matt Novak is the editor of Gizmodo's Paleofuture blog

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Okay, now, what about the health care providers he bribed? What happens to them? Do the hospitals get fined? Do the doctors lose their medical licenses? They’re the other half of this problem.