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What role have pharmaceutical companies played in fueling America’s epidemic of opioid addiction, and how have they and their stockholders profited?

This question has been answered by a new PBS documentary, Opioids Inc., documenting how one drug company bribed doctors, committed insurance fraud and made millions for Wall Street investors pushing a highly addictive opioid painkiller – and how it then became the first pharmaceutical company to have its CEO sentenced to prison time in federal court in connection with the opioid crisis.

The company was Insys Therapeutics, the CEO was John Kapoor, and the drug was Subsys, a fast-acting fentanyl-based spray that is 50 to 100 times stronger than heroin. Approved for treating cancer pain, it was prescribed much more generally, helping the company’s sales reach more than $300 million at their peak and stock prices on Wall Street surging.

Opioids, Inc. examines how federal prosecutors prepared the case against Insys by pursuing a novel strategy, using anti-racketeering laws designed to fight organized crime and working their way up the company’s ranks – and how they ultimately arrived at a “smoking gun”: a spreadsheet ordered by Kapoor that showed how Insys tracked the money that went to doctors, and what the company got in return.

The documentary tells the inside story of the corruption behind Insys’ spectacular rise – a scheme that federal prosecutors said went all the way to the top, and that involved paying doctors to prescribe extreme doses of Subsys to their patients – and how investors looked the other way.

A former sales representatives from Kapoor’s company describe a culture of unbridled greed, detailing how they targeted high-prescribing doctors and nurse practitioners known as “whales.”

“It wasn’t about cancer patients. It was about getting as many people as you could on the drug,” says former sales representative April Moore, adding, “Low doses aren’t that much money. Higher dose, more money.”

The company even held contests for the sales team: the higher the doses they got doctors to write, the larger the cash prize – despite the dangers to patients.

At the same time, the company was misleading insurers to approve prescriptions of the drug: “None of what we were saying was truthful,” a former prior authorization specialist says. “We’re just pocketing the money off of a prescription that should’ve never been approved anyway. That’s insurance fraud.”

Opioids, Inc. will be available to watch in full at, on YouTube, and in the PBS Video App. An in-depth Financial Times story will publish at and at