Federal officials are stepping up efforts to go after doctors and medical providers that overprescribe opioid painkillers in an effort to mitigate the damage of the addiction crisis.
Officials with the Department of Justice revealed Monday they are employing new resources that draw on data from Medicaid, Medicare and local coroner reports to root out doctors profiting off the national opioid epidemic. The Justice Department, under Attorney General Jeff Sessions, is making the data available to the Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit, that is operating in 12 of the regions hit hardest by the opioid epidemic, including Kentucky, West Virginia and Ohio, reported U.S. News and World Report.
The new data will give federal officials the tools necessary to increase prosecutions for opioid-related health care fraud, representatives of the Justice Department said. The data show what medical providers prescribe the most opioid painkillers and whether any of those patients have died within the past 60 days. The data also allow officials to track how far patents are traveling to secure opioid prescriptions, a possible sign of doctor shopping.
“This data shines a light we’ve never had before,” said federal prosecutor Robert Cessar, according to U.S. News and World Report. “We don’t need to have confidential informants on the street to start a case. Now, we have someone behind a computer screen who is helping us. That has to put (doctors) on notice that we have new tools.”
Sessions announced Aug. 2 the appointment of 12 veteran prosecutors to “focus solely” on targeting doctors and other medical providers taking advantage of widespread addiction to opioids in the U.S. Opioids claimed 42,249 lives last year, a 28 percent increase over the roughly 33,000 lives lost to opioids in 2015.
“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 Aug. 2. “The Department is determined to attack this opioid epidemic, and I believe these resources will make a difference.”
President Donald Trump declared the opioid epidemic a “public health emergency” on Oct. 26, giving states hit hard by opioid addiction flexibility on how they direct federal resources to combat rising drug deaths.
Data from the National Institute on Drug Abuse released Sept. 7 paints a grim outlook for the future of the drug crisis ravaging American communities.
The addiction epidemic in America will continue to deteriorate, pushing drug deaths to an estimated 71,600 in 2017, the study predicts. If the estimates prove accurate, 2017 will be the second year in a row drug deaths surpass U.S. casualties from the Vietnam War.
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