Sixty people including doctors and pharmacists were charged Wednesday for allegedly prescribing opioids illegally in several states, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced.
The defendants, including 53 health care professionals, were taken down by techniques including undercover agents. They’re accused of illegally prescribing more than 350,000 prescriptions, totaling more than 32 million pills, in exchange for money or even sex, reported The Washington Post.
The defendants include 31 doctors, seven pharmacists, eight nurse practitioners and seven other licensed medical professionals, according to a DOJ press release. The illegal drug distribution occurred in Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee, Alabama and West Virginia, according to federal indictments cited by WaPo. (RELATED: Republican Georgia Gov Signs Medical Marijuana Oil Bill Critics Call ‘Back Door’ To Recreational Use)
If convicted, the defendants could face major amounts of jail time. Some of them are charged on multiple counts, each of which could mean up to 20 years in prison.
“The opioid epidemic is the deadliest drug crisis in American history, and Appalachia has suffered the consequences more than perhaps any other region,” Attorney General William Barr said in a statement. “But the Department of Justice is doing its part to help end this crisis. One of the Department’s most promising new initiatives is the Criminal Division’s Appalachian Regional Prescription Opioid Strike Force, which began its work in December. Just four months later, this team of federal agents and 14 prosecutors has charged 60 defendants for alleged crimes related to millions of prescription opioids.”
One of those defendants includes a Tennessee doctor charged in connection to an opioid-related overdose death, according to WaPo.
More than 200,000 people have died of prescription opioid-related overdoses in the U.S. since 1999.
The charges against the medical professionals come as the American people and the media search for who to blame for the U.S. opioid crisis. Protesters have been agitating for prestigious institutions like The Metropolitan Museum of Art to separate themselves from the billionaire Sackler family. Members of the Sackler family control Purdue Pharma, which aggressively marketed the prescription opioid OxyContin and has been accused of contributing to the epidemic.
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