Complaints have been filed against four physicians, including Dr. Felix Roque of West New York, for allegedly inappropriately writing “off-label” prescriptions for high dosages of the powerful opioid and cancer pain medication “Subsys,” NJ Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal announced on Nov. 23.
Roque, a pain management specialist, is the former mayor of West New York. He lost re-election in 2019 to current Mayor Gabriel Rodriguez.
The state is seeking to suspend or revoke Roque’s license and those of the other doctors on grounds of fraud, professional misconduct, gross negligence that endangered the life and safety of their patients, and or indiscriminate prescribing of a controlled dangerous substance.
The state successfully revoked the license of a fifth doctor, who was recently sentenced to nearly five years in prison by a New York federal court for his role in the Subsys kickback scheme.
This is part of New Jersey’s efforts to hold accountable those responsible for fueling the state’s opioid epidemic.
Revoking medical licensces
According to Grewal, Roque and the other doctors allegedly prescribed Subsys “without regard for the risks of addiction, overdose, and death.”
Subsys is a highly addictive, fast-acting fentanyl spray 50 times more potent than heroin. The drug is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) only for the narrow purpose of treating breakthrough cancer pain in opioid-tolerant patients.
All five doctors allegedly wrote prescriptions for non-cancer patients after receiving substantial payments from the drug’s manufacturer, Insys Therapeutics, Inc. Insys allegedly tried to disguise the kickbacks to doctors by funneling them through a sham speaker program funded by the company.
From 2013 through 2015, Roque allegedly accepted more than $53,000 in “speaker’s fee” payments from Insys, in addition to meals and travel.
As alleged in the complaint, an Insys sales representative advised her superiors that Roque would not prescribe Subsys “until he attended a conference,” and that he had asked “to be put up” at the Fairmont Princess, a luxury hotel in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Shortly thereafter, Roque attended a conference in Arizona, funded by Insys and subsequently began prescribing Subsys. As also alleged in the complaint, one of Roque’s patients overdosed on a Subsys prescription he wrote.
Fueling the opioid epidemic
“We will hold accountable all those whose misconduct has helped fuel the opioid epidemic in New Jersey,” Grewal said. “Today, we’re taking action against multiple doctors who sold their medical licenses and prescription pads to Insys and put their personal financial interests above their patients’ health and well-being. These actions should serve notice to those who unlawfully push opioids from their exam rooms that they are not above the law and are no different than those that push heroin on street corners.”
“As our actions today demonstrate, we are committed to holding everyone accountable who is involved in illegal and unethical kickback schemes that have contributed to the overdose epidemic in this state,” said Paul R. Rodríguez, Acting Director of the Division of Consumer Affairs. “We will not allow patients in this state to be used as pawns in moneymaking schemes that pose extreme dangers to patient safety, violate basic principles of medical ethics, and erode trust in the medical profession.”
“These five doctors acknowledged that they had read the risks associated with Subsys and understood that it was approved only for narrow uses as a cancer pain medication,” said Sharon Joyce, Director of NJ CARES. “Nevertheless, they chose to ignore the unequivocal risks to their patients in favor of the easy money Insys was offering. Their unsavory collaboration with Insys endangered their patients and undermined efforts to end the opioid crisis and prevent more lives from being lost.”
The Division of Consumer Affairs’ Enforcement Bureau conducted these investigations.
The cases are being handled by Deputy Attorneys General from the Professional Boards Prosecution Section in the Division of Law’s Affirmative Civil Enforcement Practice Group and from NJ CARES. Assistant Section Chief David M. Puteska is representing the state in the Roque matter.
For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.