There aren’t many who would volunteer as David did, to face the giant Goliath. In fact, most would probably about face and run as fast as they could in the opposite direction. There is a modern-day David and Goliath battle raging in America, a drug epidemic that has been fostered by the billion-dollar drug companies and doctors who have taken oaths to protect Americans. Thankfully, there are women, like whistleblower Patty Nixon, who are willing to risk their own livelihood to voluntarily, like David, take on the Goliath’s of the world.
Nixon, a former employee of the pharmaceutical company, Insys Therapeutics, came forward to help federal prosecutors build a case against the giant. The company, which developed Subsys, a synthetic spray form of fentanyl, has been charged with bribing doctors and defrauding insurance companies. “It was quite a scheme. It was absolutely genius. It was wrong, but it was genius,” Nixon shared with NBC’s Cynthia McFadden in her first interview. Because Subsys was the only drug made by the company and only approved by the FDA for breakthrough cancer patients (ones who couldn’t be helped with any other pain medications), the company had to find a way to increase its bottom line.
The drug, strongest on the market, is 100 times more powerful than morphine and more potent than heroine. Like, all opioids, it is considered highly addictive and potentially lethal in higher doses. According to the CDC, almost 64,000 Americans overdosed in 2016 and 66% of the deaths were linked to opioid use. According to federal prosecutors, that didn’t deter Insys from directing employees to commit fraud. “My job responsibilities were to contact insurance companies on behalf of the patients and the doctors to get the medication approved and paid for by the insurance companies. …I did what I was instructed to do, I was trained to do. If I didn’t, I was going to be in trouble.”
According to additional lawsuits against the company, executives went even further and offered doctors monetary incentives to prescribe the drug to a broad group of patients who weren’t suffering from cancer. Not only did they prescribe it to patients who should have never had the drug, but often upped the doses by alarming and sometimes lethal amounts. Nixon realized that, “…this is very serious. People have died; people have been hurt.” Many of the cases against Insys executives, including founder and former CEO John N. Kapoor and the doctors who took incentives for prescribing Subsys, are still awaiting trial.
According to the NBC news report, the job and the knowledge of what was taking place took its toll on Nixon, and she began missing work. Eventually she was fired by Insys. A year later, Nixon was contacted by the FBI. “I am trying to make it right.” But making it right hasn’t been without its consequences. In the McFadden interview, Nixon admits she has been unable to find a job because she is a whistleblower. “It has been very difficult and put a financial strain on my family.” But she isn’t wavering as she faces the giant, Insys Therapuetics. She explains to her 12-year-old daughter that, “people were hurt, and somebody has got to stand up for them.”
Note: Even after more charges, arrests, and continued investigations, the company is still fully operational and ironically has developed a drug (Naxolone) prescribed and carried by many emergency care facilities and first responders to help reverse the effects opioid overdoses. Educational programs around the nation are trying to make the public aware of the risks of taking drugs like Subsys and to advocate for responsible prescription practices.