(Philippe Huguen, AFP/Getty Images)

New Jersey sues painkiller company, calling its methods “evil”

TRENTON, N.J. — A drug company that makes a powerful fentanyl painkiller spray has engaged in conduct that is “nothing short of evil,” New Jersey’s attorney general Christopher S. Porrino said Thursday after the state became the latest to file a lawsuit against the firm.

The suit alleges that Insys Therapeutics Inc. directed its sales force to have doctors prescribe the drug Subsys for any type of chronic pain even though it was only approved for cancer patients who couldn’t benefit from other opioids.

The suit is the latest from a state against the Phoenix-based drug company and comes as attorneys general around the country are broadening their investigation into the opioid industry as the U.S. overdose crisis continues to claim thousands of lives.

Meanwhile, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey announced a $500,000 settlement with the company on Thursday to resolve similar allegations. The state’s investigation found that Insys paid kickbacks to doctors to get them to prescribe the drug and then disguised them as speaker fees.

Arizona sued Insys in August, and Illinois reached a $4.5 million settlement with the company.

Insys has previously said that the marketing of Subsys was appropriate. A spokesman didn’t immediately return a message seeking comment.

The suit from New Jersey seeks financial damages and alleges that Insys created false records to get insurers to pay for prescriptions for people who didn’t need it.

“We contend that the company used every trick in the book, including sham speaking and consulting fees and other illegal kickbacks, in a callous campaign to boost profits from the sale of its marquee drug Subsys,” Porrino said in a statement.

The company has also been sued in New Jersey by the family of Sarah Fuller, who died last year at 32 after overdosing on Subsys. That lawsuit says that “Insys infiltrated the medical community with lies, misinformation, kickbacks and financial rewards.”

Drug overdoses have become a crisis across the country. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that in 2015, they killed more than 52,000 Americans. Most of the deaths involved prescription opioids such as OxyContin or Vicodin or related illicit drugs such as heroin and fentanyl. People with addictions often switch among the drugs.