Doctor in opioid kickback scheme sentenced to 51 months

A Rhode Island pain management doctor who admitted he accepted financial kickbacks for prescribing a highly addictive opioid spray was sentenced Friday to serve 51 months in federal prison.

Dr. Jerrold Rosenberg cried in court and apologized, saying "I'm truly sorry for what I've done." However, the 63-year-old maintained he was trying to help his patients.

Prosecutors said Rosenberg bullied patients who complained about the effects of the fast-acting, fentanyl spray Subsys, telling one to "stop crying, you're acting like a child." He received $188,000 in kickbacks.

At least two patients survived overdoses after receiving the opioid antidote Narcan.

Rosenberg's lawyer has said there was no evidence the overdoses were caused by Rosenberg's prescriptions.

At Friday's sentencing hearing, three of Rosenberg's former patients at his now-defunct pain management practice testified about the severe pain and debilitating effects they experienced after taking Subsys. Some witnesses testified about how Rosenberg was indifferent to their complaints and pleas to be taken off the drug.

In earlier court documents, one patient said she fell nine to 10 times and suffered numerous injuries, including breaking bones from her thumb to her wrist.

"I was killing myself. I was so high," she said.

The case is one of several nationally brought against people associated with the Arizona-based Insys Therapeutics and Subsys prescriptions, an under-the-tongue spray that was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2012 for cancer patients with severe pain who are already tolerant of opioid therapy.

Rosenberg, who pleaded guilty in October to health care fraud and conspiracy to receive kickbacks, admitted he made false representations to both private and government-funded insurers, between 2012 and 2015, claiming his patients met the insurance criteria of having the severe cancer pain, when he knew they did not. In many cases, the drug was reimbursed, at least in part, by Medicare.

The drug can cost $2,000 to more than $16,000 for a 30-day supply.

Besides serving prison time, Rosenberg, of Warren, Rhode Island, was ordered to pay $754,736.48 in restitution to the federal Medicare program.

Company executives also are being prosecuted in the case. Rosenberg admitted he conspired with Insys officials between 2012 and 2015 to receive kickbacks, in the form of speaking fees.