PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI/AP) — A doctor who pleaded guilty to accepting kickbacks in exchange for prescribing a highly addictive opioid spray was sentenced in federal court Friday to serve 51 months in prison.
Jerrold Rosenberg began to cry as he addressed the court, saying he was sorry he failed his patients. Rosenberg admitted in October to falsifying insurance documents to prescribe the fentanyl spray Subsys, and also to taking speaking fees from the company that makes it, Insys Therapeutics. However, Rosenberg maintained in court Friday he was trying to help his patients.
Prosecutors say Rosenberg bullied patients who complained about the side effects of the spray, telling one to “stop crying, you’re acting like a child.” Two patients survived after overdosing.
“I was really, really, really sick to the point that I couldn’t hold no medication – no food in my stomach,” one unnamed former patient testified to the grand jury, according to court documents. “I was 140 or 138 pounds, and I lost almost 40 pounds, I was 97 pounds. I was the entire two, three years, just vomiting.”
The patient said when she told Rosenberg she wanted to get off the drug because of the severe side effects, he became “very angry” and told her, “if you’re not happy with the treatment I’m giving you here just leave. Go get another doctor.”
Rosenberg also falsified insurance documents, claiming patients were diagnosed with “breakthrough cancer pain,” even if they didn’t have cancer, in order to get insurance companies to pay for the expensive medication. As part of his sentence, he was ordered to pay restitution to the insurance companies, including Medicare, in the amount of $754,736.
The U.S Attorney’s office said Rosenberg’s son was also working for Insys as a pharmaceutical sales representative, and was receiving commission on his father’s Subsys prescriptions.
A spokesperson for Insys declined to comment Friday. Multiple executives from the company are being prosecuted, and a sales representative who covered Rhode Island pleaded guilty last year to a kickback scheme.
“I’m sickened to hear how I have failed those three patients,” Rosenberg said in court Friday, after three of the victims testified about their experiences. “I’ve never told any patient to to take any medication that was making them sick.”
But he admitted that he took the speaking fees from Insys, knowing that they were a “significant inducement” to prescribe the medication.
“I broke the law, and I take full responsibility,” Rosenberg added.
Rosenberg’s attorney, Charles Tamuleviz, asked the judge to impose probation and home confinement, arguing that losing his medical license would be punishment in itself. But Judge John McConnell said prison time was necessary because of the “intolerable” nature of the crimes.
“You in effect sold your medical license to a pharmaceutical company,” McConnell said to Rosenberg. “Greed has no role in that sacred relationship that exists between a doctor and a patient.”
Rosenberg will also have to pay $754,736 in restitution to the insurance companies, including Medicare, that paid for the Subsys prescriptions as part of his scheme.
One of Rosenberg’s victims is also suing him in Providence Superior Court, claiming she suffered “severe and permanent injuries to her body, nerves and nervous system” as a result of being prescribed the drug by Rosenberg.
The case is one of several nationally brought against people associated with Insys Therapeutics and Subsys prescriptions, which is meant only for cancer patients with severe pain.