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
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