By Nate Raymond
(Reuters) - A former Insys Therapeutics Inc employee accused of engaging in a scheme to pay medical practitioners kickbacks to prescribe a fentanyl-based treatment is seeking to bar U.S. prosecutors from referring to the "opioid crisis" at his trial.
Lawyers for Jeffrey Pearlman, a former district sales manager at the drugmaker, in a motion filed on Wednesday asked a federal judge in Connecticut to bar references at his trial to the crisis and evidence about the dangers opioids pose.
His lawyers cited the "rampant media attention" devoted to the epidemic in arguing in favor of the restriction, saying that jurors would likely have strong biases against someone like Pearlman whose company sold and marketed opioids.
"This prejudice would only be amplified if the government were to elicit testimony or make arguments regarding the opioid crisis or the over-prescription of opioids," Pearlman's lawyers wrote.
A spokesman for U.S. Attorney John Durham in Connecticut said prosecutors would respond in court.
Opioids were involved in over 42,000 overdose deaths in 2016, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The case against Pearlman stemmed from investigations related to Chandler, Arizona-based Insys' product Subsys, an under-the-tongue spray intended to treat pain in cancer patients that contains fentanyl, a synthetic opioid.
Federal prosecutors in Boston have charged seven former executives and managers at Insys, including billionaire founder John Kapoor, accusing them of participating in a scheme to bribe doctors to prescribe Subsys. They have pleaded not guilty.
In Connecticut, prosecutors said Pearlman and sales representatives reporting to him induced medical practitioners to prescribe Subsys by paying them fees to participate in hundreds of speaker programs.
Those programs ostensibly were meant to educate healthcare professionals about Subsys, yet they tended to be gatherings at restaurants of friends and co-workers who could not prescribe the product, prosecutors said.
Pearlman has pleaded not guilty to conspiring to violate the Anti-Kickback Statute. His trial is set for Feb. 7, though both sides recently requested to delay it by at least four months.
Insys has said it is in settlement talks with the U.S. Justice Department and has estimated the minimum amount it may have to pay is $150 million.
"We are committed to work with them very closely to put the investigations behind us and open a new chapter for the company," Insys Chief Executive Saeed Motahari said at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference in San Francisco on Thursday.
(Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; additional reporting by Michael Erman in New York; Editing by Marguerita Choy)