US Food and Drug Administration

Earlier this week, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) launched a new front in its effort to combat the opioid crisis and explicitly stated that it will deploy the False Claims Act (FCA) as part of its offensive. In a press release and parallel speech delivered by Attorney General Jeff Sessions on February 28, 2018, DOJ announced the creation of the Prescription Interdiction & Litigation (PIL) Task Force.

According to DOJ, the PIL Task Force will combat the opioid crisis at every level of the distribution system, from manufacturers to distributors (including pharmacies, pain management clinics, drug testing facilities and individual physicians). DOJ will use all available civil and criminal remedies to hold manufacturers accountable, building on its existing coordination with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ensure proper labeling and marketing.  Likewise, DOJ will use civil and criminal actions to ensure that distributors and pharmacies are following US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) rules implemented to prevent diversion and improper prescribing. Finally, DOJ will use the FCA and other enforcement tools to pursue pain-management clinics, drug testing facilities and physicians that make opioid prescriptions. Continue Reading New DOJ Task Force to Take on Opioid Crisis Using the FCA and Other Enforcement Tools

The government’s focus on the US opioid crisis has been consistently expanding over the past year beyond manufacturers to reach prescribers and health care providers who submit claims to federal health care programs for opioid prescriptions. These efforts increasingly include investigations under the False Claims Act and administrative actions, in addition to the more traditional criminal approach to these issues.

With the Trump administration’s public health emergency orders, it is expected for the government’s enforcement activities, including those instigated by relators and their counsel, to grow in this area.

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On October 5, 2017, the State of New Jersey sued Insys Therapeutics, Inc. (Insys), alleging that the company improperly marketed and promoted the opioid-fentanyl painkiller drug, Subsys. The civil complaint (Complaint) follows a series of federal indictments (and in some cases guilty pleas), of several Insys employees and executives, as well as lawsuits and ongoing investigations being conducted by several states.

Like many other suits against drug manufacturers for improper marketing and promotion, the Complaint alleges violations of state consumer protection law (here, the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act). However, representative of a growing trend among the states, especially in the context of the country’s opioid epidemic, the Complaint also alleges a violation of state False Claims Acts (here, New Jersey’s False Claims Act). Manufacturers, physicians, pharmacies and others should closely review their compliance practices to anticipate such claims in light of the increased assertion of False Claims Act violations at the state level.

Echoing the allegations in other complaints against the company, the New Jersey complaint alleges that Insys improperly marketed Subsys in several ways. The Complaint alleges that, although the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Subsys only for the “single use of managing breakthrough cancer pain in patients who are tolerant to around-the-clock opioid therapy,” Insys directed its sales force to “peddle” Subsys to a broader patient population. For example, the Complaint alleges that Insys provided its sales force with “target lists ranking by deciles healthcare providers, including dentists and podiatrists, who could write prescriptions for controlled dangerous substances.” The Complaint alleges that: oncologists appeared at the bottom of these target lists, that a small percentage of the sales force was “oncology-specific,” and that the small group was disbanded shortly after Insys created it.

The Complaint also alleges that Insys “pushed” prescribers to prescribe Subsys on an inappropriate starting dosage above the FDA-mandated starting dose. For example, the Complaint alleges that: Insys’ tactics included emails from Insys executives requesting that members of the sales force explain lower-dose prescriptions, implementation of a “Switch” program designed to convert patients on high levels of competing products to the same high dosage of Subsys, a “Super Voucher” program to provide free Subsys prescriptions to prescribers, and “bribes” to prescribers alleged to be in the form of “speaker fees.”

In addition to three counts of violations of New Jersey’s Consumer Fraud Act, the Complaint alleges that Insys’ conduct violated the False Claims Act. The Complaint alleges that Insys caused the submission of false claims for reimbursement of Subsys to several New Jersey state-run programs, including New Jersey’s State Health Benefits Program, School Employees’ Health Benefits Program and State Workers’ Compensation Program. The Complaint alleges that these submissions included allegedly false expressed and/or implied certification of compliance with federal and State law and medical necessity.

The case is Porrino v. Insys Therapeutics, Inc., Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Middlesex Vicinage.

On May 1, 2017, the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of United States ex rel. Petratos, et al. v. Genentech, Inc., et al., No. 15-3801 (3d. Cir. May 1, 2017). On appeal from the US District Court for the District of New Jersey, the Third Circuit reinforced the applicability of the materiality standard set forth by the US Supreme Court in Universal Health Services v. Escobar. Per the Court, the relator’s claims implicate “three interlocking federal schemes:” the False Claims Act (FCA), Medicare reimbursement, and US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval.

The relator, Gerasimos Petratos, was the former head of health care data analytics at Genentech.  He alleged that Genentech suppressed data related to the cancer drug Avastin, thereby causing physicians to certify incorrectly that the drug was “reasonable and necessary” for certain Medicare patients. This standard is drawn from Medicare’s statutory framework: “no payment may be made” for items and services that “are not reasonable and necessary for the diagnosis and treatment of illness or injury.” 42 U.S.C. § 1395y(a)(1)(A) (emphasis added).  In turn, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) consider whether a drug has received FDA approval in determining, for its part, whether a drug is “reasonable and necessary.” Petratos claimed that Genentech “ignored and suppressed data that would have shown that Avastin’s side effects for certain patients were more common and severe than reported.” Petratos further asserted that analyses of these data would have required the company to file adverse-event reports with the FDA and could have triggered the need to change Avastin’s FDA label.

Continue Reading Third Circuit Affirms Dismissal of FCA Suit against Genentech Based on Supreme Court’s Materiality Standard