Attorney General Jeff Sessions is directing the Department of Justice to target doctors spreading opioid addiction by overprescribing painkillers.
Sessions, speaking to the Columbus Police Academy in Ohio Wednesday, announced he is appointing 12 veteran prosecutors to “focus solely” on rooting out doctors and other medical providers taking advantage of widespread addiction to opioids in the U.S. The prosecutors are assigned to 12 of the regions hit hardest by the opioid epidemic, including Kentucky, West Virginia and Ohio, with the goal of stepping up prosecutions for opioid related health care fraud.
The increased scrutiny of the medical community was part of a larger announcement by Sessions Wednesday unveiling the Department of Justice’s Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit, a new data analytics program. Sessions said it will help prosecutors identify doctors who are writing opioid scripts at a higher rate then their peers and pharmacies filling uncommonly large quantities of scripts for painkillers.
“These prosecutors, working with FBI, DEA, HHS, as well as our state and local partners, will help us target and prosecute these doctors, pharmacies, and medical providers who are furthering this epidemic to line their pockets,” Sessions said in his speech to the Columbus Police Academy. “With these new resources, we will be better positioned to identify, prosecute, and convict some of the individuals contributing to these tens of thousands of deaths a year. The Department is determined to attack this opioid epidemic, and I believe these resources will make a difference.”
Federal prosecutors charged hundreds of people for defrauding health care programs of more than $1 billion and illegally flooding the black market with opioids July 13.
Sessions said the offenders ripped off Medicare and Medicaid along with the health insurance program servicing U.S. veterans. The Department of Justice charged 412 people for the fraud, including nearly 300 health care providers, who were also either suspended or banned from federal health care programs over the violations.
Sessions said 120 people charged in the fraud, which totaled $1.3 billion, were involved in overprescribing and diverting shipments of opioid medications to the black market.
A recent STAT analysis predicts the annual death toll from opioids will rise by roughly 35 percent between 2015 and 2027. Their research predicts up to 500,000 people could die from opioids over the next decade. The experts agree, even in a best-case scenario, the crisis will not visibly start to subside until after 2020.
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