Federal officials are charging 60 defendants across five states in what they're calling the largest opioid prescriber takedown ever. These are the first arrests announced since an opioid strike force began late last year.
The defendants include 31 doctors, seven pharmacists, eight nurse practitioners and seven other licensed medical professionals. They're charged with participating in illegally prescribing and distributing opioids and other drugs, and other health care fraud schemes.
"Cases like one involving a doctor in Dayton, Ohio, who at one time was among the highest prescribers of opioids in the entire state," says U.S. Assistant Attorney General Brian Benczkowski of the Criminal Division, speaking in Cincinnati. "That doctor allegedly operated a 'pill mill' and funneled prescriptions to the pharmacy housed in his own waiting room which dispensed over 1.75 million pills in a two-year period."
Wednesday's arrests span 11 federal districts in Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia, Tennessee and Alabama.
"As charged, these cases involve approximately 350,000 opioid prescriptions and more than 32 million pills," Benczkowski says. "[That's] the equivalent of a dose of opioids for every man, woman and child across the states of Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia and Alabama combined."
More arrests are expected and investigations are continuing. The strike force is expanding to include the Western District of West Virginia. Benczkowski says the indictments are indicative of the Trump administration and Justice Department's tough stance on the opioid epidemic.
U.S. district attorneys from across the five states joined Benczkowski in Cincinnati for Wednesday's announcement, along with officials from the FBI, DEA, Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
Officials didn't offer specifics about how much money the defendants are alleged to have bilked through healthcare fraud and various prescribing schemes. "But it's fair to say that these involved millions of pills and certainly if not hundreds of thousands of dollars, millions of dollars to some of these medical professionals as part of their schemes," Benczkowski says.
He says the cost to the Criminal Division is about $3 million.
The Appalachian Regional Prescription Opioid Strike Force was announced in November and launched the following month. Acting U.S. Attorney General Matt Whitaker made that announcement in Cincinnati, and the local office is located in Fort Mitchell, Ky.