On Wednesday, April 17, 2019, the Justice Department made public that federal prosecutors are charging 60 medical professionals for alleged health care fraud and illegally pushing opioids — in a time when the United States is in the midst of an opioid crisis.
In 2017, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services declared that the opioid crisis was a public health emergency. And no wonder, considering the fact that 140+ Americans die from drug overdoses — 91 due to opioids — every day. (1)
And to hear that this crisis is being fueled, in part, by people in power is defeating.
According to Assistant Attorney General Brian Benczkowski, the cases involve more than 32 million pills and 350,000 prescriptions for controlled substances. To give you some context, that’s about a dose of opioids for “every man, woman and child” in Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, and West Virginia. (2)
A two-part investigation
Beginning in late 2018, the strike force began by using data analytics — i.e., prescription data monitoring programs and Medicaid billing — to identify potential individuals who might be involved.
After analyzing the data, local law enforcement across Appalachia — Alabama, Kentucky, Louisiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and West Virginia — began part two of the investigation: traditional policing methods like search warrants, surveillance, and informants.
Because confidential informants recorded and videotaped just how these doctors and medical professionals work, footage revealed they would exchange opioids not only for cash, but sex.
Benczkowski said, “You can rest assured, when medical professionals behave like drug dealers, the Department of Justice is going to treat them like drug dealers.”
In a Department of Justice press release, the Office of Public Affairs revealed that some of those charged include:
- 31 doctors
- Seven pharmacists
- Eight nurse practitioners
- Seven other licensed medical professionals
Some of these individuals were illegally selling opioids out of their homes for cash. There was even a dentist accused of pulling patients’ teeth — unnecessarily — in order to fill prescriptions.
Not the first investigation of its kind
In 2018, the Justice department charged more than 600 people in connection with the nation’s largest health care fraud investigation. It included 76 doctors who prescribed and distributed opioids, among other narcotics. (3)
“Opioid misuse and abuse is an insidious epidemic, created in large part, by the over-prescribing of potent opioids nationwide, and unfortunately, Appalachia is at the center,” said John Martin, the DEA Assistant Administrator. “Today’s announcement sends a clear message that the investigations involving diversion of prescription drugs have been, and continue to be, a priority for DEA.” (4)
If you overprescribe or steal from taxpayers, Special Agent Derrick Jackson believes you should go to jail. Of the Appalachian opioid takedown, Jackson “would classify it as federally funded drug dealing… because these are federal programs that are paying for the drugs. (5)
Targeting corrupt medical professionals, not people who use
Benczkowski realizes that people who are suffering from opioid addiction will still be showing up to these medical buildings. Many of them are truly pain patients and require continuous care.
But together with the CDC, authorities are working to make sure they can receive or be directed to a safer facility for medical treatment.
“In my view, if we can save one life, this will have been worth it,” said Benczkowski. “We’re not going to just come out and try to arrest our way out of the problem.” (2)
In a devastating report from the CDC, they revealed that nearly 218,000 people died from opioid-linked overdoses in the United States from 1999 to 2017. (6) And these numbers are further fueled by the growing opioid epidemic.
If you, a family member, friend or loved one believe you may be a victim in any of these cases or in connection with any charged defendant, please visit the following website for additional information:
If you, a family member, friend or loved one believe you may be a victim in any of these cases or in connection with any charged defendant, please visit this website for additional information.
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