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Drug founder ‘driven by greed’: prosecutor

A lawyer for Insys Therapeutics Inc's one-time billionaire founder has denied he had any role in the US opioid crisis as a federal prosecutor has told jurors he ran a scheme to bribe doctors to prescribe an addictive fentanyl spray.

John Kapoor, the drug maker's former chairman, and four colleagues are the first painkiller manufacturer executives to face trial over conduct authorities say contributed to an opioid abuse crisis that has killed tens of thousands of people a year.

Assistant US attorney David Lazarus told a Boston federal jury at the trial's start that Kapoor oversaw the bribing of doctors who were paid to act as speakers at poorly attended sham events at restaurants ostensibly meant to educate clinicians about its product, Subsys.

The US Food and Drug Administration has only approved Subsys as a treatment for severe cancer pain. Yet Lazarus said doctors who took bribes often prescribed Subsys to patients without cancer, creating higher sales.

"This is a case about greed, about greed and its consequences, the consequences of putting profits over people," Lazarus said in his opening statement on Monday.

Lazarus said Insys also defrauded insurers into paying for Subsys. He said from 2012 to 2015 Kapoor had the help of co-defendants, former Insys executives and managers Michael Gurry, Richard Simon, Sunrise Lee and Joseph Rowan.

Kapoor's lawyer, Beth Wilkinson, called those charges "patently false".

She said Kapoor became dedicated to promoting Subsys after observing the pain his wife suffered due to breast cancer.

Wilkinson acknowledged Insys paid doctors but said Kapoor believed doctors really were being paid to talk up the product's benefits.

Kapoor's 2017 arrest came the same day US President Donald Trump declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency.

In 2017, a record 47,600 people died of opioid-related overdoses, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In her opening statement, Wilkinson stressed that Subsys made up only 0.03 per cent of all US opioid prescriptions.

Insys said in August it would pay at least $US150 million ($A209 million) to resolve a Justice Department probe into its marketing of Subsys.

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