Attorney sues Chandler-based pharmaceutical company


Ted Simons: Coming up next on Arizona Horizon, the state joins a lawsuit against a local pharmaceutical company that manufactures a powerful opioid. Also tonight: reaction from the state board of regents on the rescission of DACA. And the remarkable stories of Vietnamese immigrants who found success in America. That's next on Arizona Horizon.

Arizona "Horizon" is made possible by contributions from the friend of Arizona PBS and members of your PBS station. Thank you.

Good evening and welcome to Arizona Horizon. I'm Ted Simons. Tucson has agreed to repeal its ordinance calling for the destruction of seized guns, this after the Arizona Supreme Court ruled that the ordinance broke a state law that requires cities to sell surplus firearms to a licensed gun-dealer with proceeds going to the city budget. Tucson had argued that the state has no right to interfere with a local law, but the Supreme Court ruled otherwise. And El Paso is ending a travel ban to Arizona instituted 7-years ago because of sb-1070. The El Paso city council voted that its members may now travel to Arizona on official city business. 3-city council members were against ending the travel ban because parts of sb-1070 are still in place, but El Paso’s mayor says that ending the ban is needed so that the city can better recruit Arizona businesses and employees looking to relocate. Arizona has joined a lawsuit against insys-therapeutics, a chandler-based opioid manufacturer that's accused of shady marketing practices in pushing their product. 3 Arizona doctors are targeted by the suit as well. Here to talk about all this is Arizona attorney general Mark Brnovich.

Mark Brnovich: Good to see you.

Ted Simons: What is insys-therapeutics?

Mark Brnovich: They provide drugs like Fentanyl that is highly potent and toxic and dozens of times more powerful than heroin. It is meant for terminal illnesses, really bad cancer. That is what the drug was approved for and what it was supposed to be used for. What we found out is the manufacturer we allege, and it is our lawsuit, we filled it, alleging they violated consumer protection laws by manipulating insurance companies approving the drugs and there were a handful of doctors that accounted for two 3rds of the prescriptions for people that didn't need it.

Ted Simons: Basically fraud?

Mark Brnovich: That is what the allegation is. It is serious. What we see with the opioid epidemic is you have bad actors and whether that is the doctors or the pharmaceutical and the insurance companies paying for the medication. If you read our complaint and the allocations in it, you had employees of this drug company, ted, that were pretending like they were doctors offices saying the patient had cancer or needed this medication and having us pay for it as you know people in the insurance pool and getting into our communities' bloodstreams. They put their corporate profits above our community security.

Ted Simons: These doctors were paid speaking fees so to speak. This sounds like a bribe. What is going on here?

Mark Brnovich: When we go to the doctors, if your doctor prescribes you a medicine you get it filled because you assume the doctor is doing it because it is something you need and you rely on the doctors medical judgment. You have three doctors that were paid hundreds of thousands in speaking fees and once they started getting paid the speaking fees you saw a spike in the number of prescriptions they were prescribing. These three doctors averaged about a thousand prescriptions each and the rest of the doctors in Arizona were averaging a dozen or so. We will litigate the case but I think those are damming facts and to me this is part of the problem. We talk about the opioid epidemics. When you are scrupulous pharmaceutical companies and doctors willing to put public health above the profits.

Ted Simons: It sounds like it went on for five years?

Mark Brnovich: It did. The federal government has filled criminal charges against some of the executives. One of the managers of this company that was involved in lying to the insurance companies has already pled guilty. So, you know, this is kind of the beginning of the process. But it is systematic I think of what we need to be careful about when we talk about these issues.

Ted Simons: And according to your complaint, nine prescriptions per month from one doctor before the speaking fee. 60 some odd prescriptions after the speaking fee. Pretty clear what is going on here.

Mark Brnovich: Yes. These are only allegations but those are facts. That is what happened. It will be interesting to see what happens as far as the explanations go. As the attorney general, I have to put the interest of the community above the profits of any company whether they are based in Arizona or elsewhere. This kind of unethical behavior is what fuels the public’s mistrust and distrust of big pharma.

Ted Simons: Would this have been investigated or would the suit have been filled if not for the opioid epidemic?

Mark Brnovich: You know, we have actually, as you know, we have been involved in numerous consumer fraud lawsuits. We just settled another Arizona-based company having problems with their blood testing. We made sure every Arizona consumer was reimbursed and offered a full refund. We are suing Volkswagen over allegations they lied to Arizona consumers regarding fuel economy and emissions in their vehicle. I have taken a very proactive approach. I always say I am the people’s lawyer and my job is to defend Arizona consumers. We have been very aggressive going after companies that lie to consumers.

Ted Simons: Does your job mean you will file a lawsuit over instate tuitions as offered to university students who are DACA recipients?

Mark Brnovich: This is a difficult and personal issue for me. I am a first generation American and you know, I did not even grow up speaking English in my house as a kid. I understand this country is the land of opportunity, it bothers me that congress, both republicans, and democrats, haven’t done anything to provide clarity and settle the issue. No one should be punished for what their parents or grandparents may or may not have done. I think we need to have congress act and if congress did act on these issues a lot of these lawsuits involved and we are involved with one over the Maricopa school district. We won the case but there is appeal pending for the state supreme court. I am hoping congress acts quickly and if they do that will create certainty and resolution.

Ted Simons: That community college case is pending in front of the Supreme Court. Russell Pierce said he will file suit against the board of regents if you don't file a suit against the board of regents by tomorrow.

Mark Brnovich: Who?

Ted Simons: Russell Pierce.

Mark Brnovich: Who is that?

Mark Brnovich: My north star will be the constitution. We will do what the law requires us to do and what is best for the people of Arizona. One of the reasons why we are in litigation at the community college districts is because Arizona voters pass the opposition by more than 70% of the vote and said they did not want to give instate tuition to people who don't have in-state status. We need certainty. We need congress to act and I hope congress does. I am in favor of, you know, some sort of reform that will allow folks that came here through no fault of their own to enjoy the American dream.

Ted Simons: Does it make sense -- you will get certainty but until then hold off like the board of regents said it wants to do and is doing? Does it make sense to hold off until you get that certainty?

Mark Brnovich: This is a difficult issue and I will be frank we are considering all options which would include filing a lawsuit and asking the court to step in and ask the university from offering instate tuition. That is one of the options we are considering. We have weighing all the options and discussing do we send something to treasury or general accounting office to have them withhold that kind of money in case the state is sued. We are weighing a lot of different options.

Ted Simons: Will continue to if that law maker goes on to file his own lawsuit?

Mark Brnovich: We are driven by what we think is best for Arizona. Not what some person wants to do.

Ted Simons: Pleasure talking to you. Time goes by fast.

Ted Simons: It sure does. Coming up on Arizona Horizon, the future of DACA recipients attending Arizona universities now that DACA will soon be no more.

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