An embattled pharmaceutical company that sells the powerful painkiller fentanyl has

donated $500,000 toward defeating a ballot initiative that would make recreational use

of marijuana legal under Arizona law.

It's hard to imagine a more sinister donor than Insys Therapeutics Inc. in the eyes of pot

legalization proponents, who long have claimed drug companies want to keep cannabis

illegal to corner the market for drugs, some addictive and dangerous, that relieve pain

and other symptoms.

Insys currently markets just one product, according to an August filing with the

Securities and Exchange Commission: a sublingual fentanyl spray it calls Subsys.

Two former company employees pleaded not guilty last month to federal charges

related to an alleged kickback scheme to get doctors to prescribe Subsys.

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan filed a lawsuit late last month against the

company alleging Insys hawked the drug to doctors for off-label prescribing, saying the

company's "desire for increased profits led it to disregard patients' health and push

addictive opioids for non-FDA approved purposes."

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid significantly more potent than heroin that can cause

overdoses, especially when it's used to cut the supply of illegally sourced drugs. The

musician Prince died from an accidental fentanyl overdose in April.

Insys made its large contribution to the anti-legalization campaign group Arizonans for

Responsible Drug Policy on Aug. 31, according to information posted online by the

Arizona secretary of state's office.

Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy campaign manager Adam Deguire tells U.S.

News that legalization foes will not return the donation. In a statement he expressed

gratitude and stressed that Insys is based in Arizona, unlike the Marijuana Policy

Project, which has contributed substantially toward passing the initiative.

A voicemail requesting comment from Insys was not immediately returned.

Advocates for the marijuana legalization initiative Proposition 205, which is up 10

percentage points in a poll released Wednesday by the Arizona Republic, condemned

the donation.

J.P. Holyoak, chairman of the initiative-backing Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like

Alcohol, said in a statement that "we are truly shocked by our opponents' decision to

keep a donation from what appears to be one of the more unscrupulous members of Big


Holyoak said: "Our opponents have made a conscious decision to associate with this

company. They are now funding their campaign with profits from the sale of opioids –

and maybe even the improper sale of opioids. We hope that every Arizonan

understands that Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy is now a complete misnomer.

Their entire campaign is tainted by this money. Any time an ad airs against Prop. 205,

the voters should know that it was paid for by highly suspect Big Pharma actors."

From 2011 through at least last year, Insys also sold a second product: a generic

equivalent to  Marinol , a synthetic version of the cannabinoid THC

(tetrahydrocannabinol), which the Food and Drug Administration allows for treatment of

cancer and HIV-related symptoms like nausea and loss of appetite, which cannabis

advocates say the raw plant material can treat without a corporate middleman. Insys

said in its August filing it has no plans to resume those sales, though it is preparing a

similar drug.

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