Ex-doctor gets more than 17 years for illicit opioid Rx, kickbacks – Reuters
- Sentence is among longest yet imposed over Insys kickback scheme
- Gordon Freedman blamed Asperger’s syndrome in not recognizing patients’ addiction
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(Reuters) – A former pain doctor in New York was sentenced to 17-1/2 years in prison on Thursday after being convicted of taking kickbacks from Insys Therapeutics to prescribe its opioid drug and pleading guilty to writing illegal opioid prescriptions to a patient who died of an overdose.
The sentence for Gordon Freedman, handed down by U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood in Manhattan, was one of the most severe yet in a series of criminal prosecutions around the country connected with Insys.
By comparison, Insys founder John Kapoor was sentenced to 5-1/2 years, and other doctors have been sentenced to less than five years. One Alabama doctor was sentenced to 21 years in 2017, but an appeals court later vacated it for reconsideration.
“Dr. Freedman, you contributed to the scourge of our lifetime, our opioid crisis,” Wood told the doctor at the sentencing hearing. “I don’t believe that your crime was just one misstep in an otherwise blameless career … What punishment could restore good health to those you have harmed?”
Samuel Braverman of Fasulo Braverman & Di Maggio, Freedman’s lawyer, could not immediately be reached for comment after the sentencing. Before being sentenced, Freedman denied that he had been motivated by greed and blamed Asperger’s syndrome for his failure to pick up on “cues” of his patients’ addiction.
“I think the prosecutors are trying to paint a picture of me as some cold-blooded, heartless monster, and nothing could be further from the truth,” he said.
Freedman was found guilty by a jury in December 2019 of accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes from now-defunct Insys in exchange for prescribing Subsys, a spray version of the ultra-potent opioid drug fentanyl. The drug is only approved by the Food and Drug Administration for certain cancer patients.
Prosecutors said Insys bribed Freedman and other doctors by paying them to act as speakers at sham educational events about Subsys.
Just weeks after his conviction, Freedman pleaded guilty to a separate charge of prescribing oxycodone and fentanyl to a patient, Jeffrey Rosenthal, without a legitimate medical purpose. Rosenthal died after overdosing on fentanyl prescribed by Freedman in 2017, according to prosecutors.
Rosenthal’s mother spoke at the sentencing hearing, as did the mother of another patient, who said her daughter experienced severe side effects from excessive opioids prescribed by Freedman and ultimately died after passing out in the shower. Both called for Freedman to face severe punishment.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Noah Solowiejczyk and Katherine Reilly, arguing for the government, said a severe sentence was warranted because Freedman took more bribes over a longer period, and prescribed more Subsys, than other doctors who have been charged in the scheme.
Reilly called Freedman’s conduct “much worse” than “selling drugs on a street corner,” saying he should have known better and was not motivated by financial hardship.
Insys filed for bankruptcy in June, days after striking a $225 million settlement with the U.S. Justice Department in which a subsidiary pleaded guilty to fraud.
The case is USA v. Freedman, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 18-cr-00217.
For the government: Assistant U.S. Attorneys Noah Solowiejczyk and Katherine Reilly
For Freedman: Samuel Braverman of Fasulo Braverman & Di Maggio