The opioid crisis may have finally resulted in at least one positive lesson: White-collar crime can land you behind bars in real prisons.
Prescription opioid pain medications weren’t street drugs. They had great potential for relieving pain and for making profits for drug companies.
Greed took over the decision-makers at one of those companies. Last week, John Kapoor, the founder of Insys Therapeutics, was found guilty of criminal conspiracy and sentenced to five and a half years in federal prison. Four other executives were also sentenced to prison terms.
It was the culmination of the first successful prosecution of drug company executives in the opioid crisis. Those convicted used their positions to get doctors to overprescribe Insys’ oral fentanyl spray. Insurance companies were persuaded to cover the $19,000-per-month cost.
No one broke into houses, assaulted strangers or brandished weapons to steal money. Instead, the crimes involved decisions and actions taken in clean, quiet offices while wearing business attire.
In the course of business, the executives downplayed evidence that the drugs are highly addictive. They pushed doctors to prescribe them in the place of less expensive alternatives. They encouraged or ignored shipments of millions of doses of other opioids into single locations in tiny towns.
White-collar crimes are not victimless. In this one, the addiction that results from the ready availability of opioids has engulfed too many users, destroying individuals, families and entire communities.
White-collar crimes may be cloaked in business terms like market share, product differentiation and bottom-line growth. But lives are destroyed just as surely as when a gun is used.
Too often, white-collar crimes earn suspended sentences or fines that amount to little more than an insignificant expense on an income statement. This time, however, a jury recognized the Insys business practices as real crimes.
“This was an offense of greed,” said U.S. District Judge Allison Burroughs in sentencing the Insys head of sales, according to a National Public Radio report.
Experts hope prison terms and the $225 million fine that helped send Insys into bankruptcy will send a chilling message to the entire pharmaceutical industry.
Penalties should reflect the understanding that white-collar crimes are not victimless. Those in corner offices should be assured they might actually serve hard time for criminal acts.
If that happens, it won’t begin to make up for the damage done by the opioid crisis. But at least it will be a start.