A Valley doctor who took large payments from an embattled drug manufacturer denies any wrongdoing as the Arizona Attorney General’s Office alleges the company was engaged in a fraudulent scheme to deceive insurers and patients.
Dr. Nikesh Seth was directly named as a defendant in a consumer fraud lawsuit filed by the Attorney General’s Office in late August.
“Being tied to that, there are legal things going on that I am unable to speak for,” Seth said. “But we’ve done everything appropriately.”
Last week, a public relations firm contacted ABC15 to pitch an interview with Dr. Seth regarding the opioid epidemic and options at his office to “help end opioid dependency.” The pitch, which was made two months after Seth was sued by the Attorney General’s Office, didn’t mention the state’s claim against the doctor.
During the interview, ABC15 asked Seth about his involvement with Insys.
Seth’s comments are the first public statements made by any of the three doctors named in the state’s consumer fraud case against Insys, a Chandler-based pharmaceutical company that makes a powerful opioid painkiller called Subsys.
The Attorney General’s Office alleges that Seth and two other doctors “collected hundreds of thousands of dollars from Insys in sham ‘speaker fees’ in exchange for writing copious amounts of Subsys prescriptions to patients.”
Subsys is a spray form of fentanyl, an opioid, that is FDA-approved only for cancer patients with “breakaway pain.”
Since that’s a limited market and insurance companies won’t pay for the drug outside of the FDA’s approval, officials said Insys defrauded insurance companies by working with doctors to submit falsified patient records to say the patients had cancer when they didn’t.
ABC15 also spoke to a former Insys employee, who said she specifically remembers falsifying patient records for Dr. Seth’s patients.
Dr. Seth said he was not involved or didn’t not know that was going on.
“Unfortunately, if they did that, that’s a problem with the company,” he said. “We write a script that we think is going to help patients. When patients get the scripts, we’re not sure how that happens.”
The Attorney General’s lawsuit claims that Dr. Seth wrote the second-highest number of Subsys prescriptions from March 2012 through April 2017. His total number of Subsys prescriptions was 884, with nearly all of them coming between mid-2014 and mid-2016, records show.
During that time period, those prescriptions generated more than $5 million for Insys. In return, the Attorney General’s Office said Seth received $229,187.50, records show.
But Seth said high speaker fees are “common in the industry.”
“It’s unfortunate it happened to be with a company that’s under major scrutiny,” he said.
In court documents, Seth’s attorneys also responded to the Attorney General’s lawsuit by saying that he disclosed that he was a paid speaker to any patient that received a Subsys prescription.
Seth also said the Attorney General’s Office essentially cherry-picked statistics and that he stands by his treatment, prescriptions and actions.
“I see thousands of patients,” he said. “Only 1 percent ended up on this product.”
In unrelated legal cases, at least eight Insys executives and several doctors across the country are facing criminal charges for their role in pushing fraudulent Subys prescriptions.
Last week, Arizona billionair John Kapoor, who founded Insys, was also charged in federal court for his involvement.