The former chief executive of Insys Therapeutics and several other former executives were arrested Thursday on federal charges of conspiring to bribe doctors to prescribe a prescription version of the potent opioid fentanyl.

The painkiller, called Subsys, is approved by the Food and Drug Administration for cancer patients who suffer from intense bouts of pain that are not controlled by other opioid medications. In exchange for bribes and kickbacks offered by Insys employees, several doctors wrote large numbers of Subsys prescriptions for patients who did not have cancer, prosecutors said.

“As alleged, top executives of Insys Therapeutics, Inc. paid kickbacks and committed fraud to sell a highly potent and addictive opioid that can lead to abuse and life threatening respiratory depression,” Harold H. Shaw, the head of the Boston office of the FBI, said in a statement. “In doing so, they contributed to the growing opioid epidemic and placed profit before patient safety.”

The executives arrested include former Insys CEO Michael Babich of Scottsdale, Ariz.; the former national sales director, Richard Simon of Seal Beach, Calif.; the former vice president of sales, Alec Burlakoff of Charlotte, N.C.; and two former regional sales directors.

An attorney for Burlakoff, George Vien of Boston, said his client would plead not guilty and “fight the case.” The other defendants or their lawyers couldn’t be immediately reached for comment.

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