Justice Department Announces Enforcement Action Charging 12 Medical Professionals with Opioid Distribution Offenses
Appalachian Regional Prescription Opioid (ARPO) Strike Force Combats Unlawful Prescribing Amidst Continuing Opioid Epidemic
(STL.News) The Department of Justice, together with federal and state law enforcement partners, today announced criminal charges against 14 defendants in eight federal districts across the United States for their alleged involvement in crimes related to the unlawful distribution of opioids. Twelve of the defendants were medical professionals at the time of these alleged offenses.
“Today’s Opioid Enforcement Action highlights the Justice Department’s latest efforts in responding to the nation’s opioid epidemic, which last year alone caused the tragic loss of life for more than 75,000 people in the United States due to overdose,” said Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite, Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “The Department of Justice will continue to work tirelessly with its partners to combat this epidemic, and to seek to prevent the next tragic loss of life.”
One of the cases announced today charged a Kentucky dentist with unlawfully prescribing morphine. In August 2020, this dentist issued three opioid prescriptions to a 24-year-old patient in a five-day period. The patient died from a morphine overdose, allegedly from one of the prescriptions the dentist issued during those five days. Another case charged a former nurse and clinic director in Tennessee with unlawfully obtaining opioid pain pills for personal use and further distribution by filling fraudulent prescriptions in the names of current and former hospice patients. According to the indictment, the defendant then used the patients’ hospice benefits to cover the costs of the unlawfully obtained prescriptions opioids.
A third case charged a Kentucky doctor with unlawfully prescribing opioids to patients whose health care treatments were paid for by taxpayer-funded programs like Medicare and Medicaid. The defendant allegedly preyed on these patients for continued access in order to bill these programs for medically unnecessary procedures.
“When we helped announce ARPO strike forces in 2019 we said it would be an enduring commitment to stamp out illegal opioid trafficking by prescription pad and we meant it,” said U.S. Attorney Kenneth L. Parker for the Southern District of Ohio. “As is evident by the results announced today, we will continue to bring coordinated enforcement actions to address the opioid scourge plaguing the region.”
Today’s announcement also highlighted the continued efforts of the Health Care Fraud Unit’s Appalachian Regional Prescription Opioid (ARPO) Strike Force. Over the past three years, ARPO has charged 111 defendants with crimes related to the unlawful distribution of prescription opioids. Together, these defendants issued prescriptions for over 115 million controlled substance pills.
Since its inception, ARPO has partnered with federal and state law enforcement agencies and U.S. Attorneys’ Offices throughout Alabama, Kentucky, Ohio, Virginia, Tennessee, and West Virginia to prosecute medical professionals and others involved in the illegal prescription and distribution of opioids
“The FBI and our partners are working together to combat the opioid crisis and hold accountable those abusing their prescription privileges,” said Special Agent in Charge J. William Rivers of the FBI’s Cincinnati Field Office. “We urge the public to assist us in keeping the community safe by calling 1-800-CALL-FBI with tips about those illegally prescribing opioids.”
“Those who illegally prescribe opioids not only undermine critical efforts to address the epidemic; they also put patients at risk of overdose and physical harm,” said Inspector General Christi A. Grimm of the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG). “This enforcement action demonstrates HHS-OIG’s commitment to working with our law enforcement partners to hold accountable bad actors who abuse their status as health care providers and exploit the opioid epidemic for personal gain.”
“Doctors and health care professionals are entrusted with prescribing medicine responsibly and in the best interests of their patients. Today’s takedown targets medical providers across the country whose greed drove them to abandon this responsibility in favor of criminal profits,” said Administrator Anne Milgram of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). “DEA will use every tool at our disposal to stop drug diversion and fraud. And we are working tirelessly each day to make our communities safer and healthier.”
Additionally, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ (CMS) Center for Program Integrity has taken six administrative actions against providers for their alleged involvement in these offenses.
“Patient care and safety are top priorities for us, and CMS has taken administrative action against six providers to protect critical resources entrusted to Medicare while also safeguarding people with Medicare,” said CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure. “These actions to combat fraud, waste, and abuse in our federal programs would not be possible without the close and successful partnership of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the Department of Justice, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General.”
U.S. Attorneys William S. Thompson for Southern District of West Virginia, Carlton S. Shier IV for the Eastern District of Kentucky, and Francis M. Hamilton III for the Eastern District of Tennessee joined the announcement today.
Today’s enforcement actions were led and coordinated by Principal Deputy Chief Kilby Macfadden and ARPO Assistant Chiefs Alexis Gregorian and Jillian Willis. The Fraud Section’s ARPO Strike Force and the Health Care Fraud Unit’s Strike Forces in Miami and New Jersey, as well as the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices for the Northern District of Alabama, Eastern District of Kentucky, District of New Jersey, Eastern District of Tennessee, and Southern District of West Virginia are prosecuting these cases.
In addition to the DEA, FBI, and HHS-OIG, the Kentucky and Ohio Medicaid Fraud Control Units; Tennessee Bureau of Investigation; U.S. Postal Inspection Service; and other federal and local law enforcement agencies participated in the law enforcement action.
An indictment, complaint, or information is merely an allegation, and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.