Even if you only have a passing awareness of the pharmaceutical industry, you’ve likely heard of Insys Therapeutics. The Arizona-based pharmaceutical company has been sparring with marijuana legalization efforts for years while simultaneously experiencing its own legal headaches. Late last month, Insys revealed to the public that the DEA has approved their moving forward on a new synthetic cannabis they’ve had in development. What makes this news even more alarming is the corporation’s history of lobbying against marijuana legalization.
Insys’ Transparent War Against the Cannabis Industry
Insys never did a fantastic job of hiding their targeting of the marijuana industry. The Washington Post obtained a copy of a letter drafted in 2011 in which Insys expressed their disapproval of the DEA’s consideration of relaxing cannabis restrictions. If that isn’t quite blatant enough, Insys spelled it out back in 2007 with this investor filing that claims legalization of cannabis could “significantly limit the commercial success” of its synthetic cannabis. In 2015, they contacted the DEA again, this time requesting a re-scheduling of synthetic cannabis. But since actions speak louder than words, Insys started to put its money where its mouth is starting last year when they donated a staggering $500,000 to Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy; a group that successfully threw its weight into stopping marijuana legalization in Arizona. Of course, synthetic cannabis has been proven to be anything but responsible but asking a modern day marijuana prohibitionist to use common sense might be a bit too much.
Launching Into Synthetic Cannabis with Syndros
It’s painfully apparent that Insys Therapeutics is only interested in blocking the legalization of cannabis because they don’t have much faith in their own horse in the race. That horse’s name is Syndros. Syndros differs from other types of synthetic cannabis designs in that it’s meant to be taken in a liquid state. This laboratory-fabricated liquid THC was intended to compete against Marinol, a dronabinol pill that enjoys a fairly lax Schedule III categorization from the DEA. Insys was shooting for a Schedule III classification for Syndros as well but was instead rewarded for all their pay outs and hard work with a potentially crippling Schedule II ruling. Just to give some perspective, Schedule II is reserved for controlled substances with a “high potential for abuse.” So, while that leaves Syndros open to doctor prescription, it also places it firmly alongside controversial substances such as oxycodone, Adderall, Ritalin, Vicodin and even cocaine. But cheer up, Insys. At least the DEA hasn’t relegated Syndros to Schedule I, reserved for drugs with no proven medicinal value such as heroin, LSD, marijuana and CBD oil. Why do we have a DEA again?
But the Schedule II undoubtedly infuriated the investor of Syndros as Marinol’s Schedule III categorization definitely gives it a leg up in the pharmaceutical market. Ironically, the same feature of Syndros that Insys had been hoping would push it head-and-shoulders above its competitors is the same quality that earned it a Schedule II placement. While the liquid state of Syndros could be seen as a more convenient alternative to the Marinol pill form, it also leaves the liquid synthetic cannabis open to extraction process per representatives of Health and Human Services.
The Shameful Investigation Into Subsys
Prior to revealing their plans to market a synthetic cannabis, Insys was making headlines for the way they handled the “marketing” of their drug, Subsys. Subsys is a brand of fentanyl used as a prescription painkiller despite being deemed 50 times stronger than heroin and every bit as lethal. At the end of 2016, the FBI arrested six Insys executives including a prior chief executive. For a drug so potent, the accusations were pretty steep, claiming these executives paid kickbacks to doctors and bribed them to prescribe fentanyl to patients even if they were found to have no need for fentanyl. Insys has even seen some recent arrests in connection with the ongoing Subsys scandal, sending prescriptions into a thankfully irretrievable tailspin.
While the DEA has been much kinder and more sympathetic to a major pharmaceutical company developing synthetic cannabis than it has to people trying to medicate through natural means, Insys is still pretty much trying to recover from bad news after the Schedule II ruling. Marijuana activists have been vocal about the transparency of the dealings between Insys and the DEA to block natural medicine in favor of a substandard synthesized substitute. But the news seems to be hitting Insys where it really counts: the bank accounts. On Monday, the pharmaceutical company admitted to a 41.6% drop in quarterly revenue, specifically linked to a lack of enthusiasm in Subsys. Undoubtedly, a lot of money was resting on a successful launch of Syndros later in the year but a combination of bad press and that savage Schedule II classification could spell more bad days for Insys.
The Disturbing Connection Between Insys and the DEA
But the truly disturbing takeaway from the current affairs of Insys is the ease with which a federal organization will turn against the will of the people in favor of the almighty dollar. It’s a theme that’s been relentlessly hammered home over the last several years; the loss of innocence that accompanies a wealth of knowledge. It’s probably more of a combination of confidence and arrogance than incompetence that leaves Insys and their dealings with the DEA so open to public scrutiny. They’re simply adhering to a rather basic template of long-term corporate viciousness that would find them stalling marijuana legalization, in spite of the public’s best interest, while they comfortably build their own controlling niche in the industry. The inertia of the cannabis industry is far too strong to stop and Insys is well aware of this. They can’t stop the clock but they have a lot of factors helping them to slow it down, including a wildly conservative Attorney General who considers Reefer Madness an unflinching documentary.
In addition to Syndros, which is still expected to launch in the latter half of 2017, Insys are hard at work developing another type of synthetic cannabis with more of an emphasis on CBD as opposed to THC. But will anyone be interested when it’s becoming more and more obvious every day that the natural remedy of medical marijuana is far superior to any synthesized pharmaceutical product?