Charges Involve Over 350 Thousand Prescriptions for Controlled Substances and Over 32 Million Pills; ARPO Strike Force Grows to 10 Districts, Expanding to Include the Western District of Virginia
(STL.News) Attorney General William P. Barr and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex M. Azar II, together with multiple law enforcement partners, yesterday announced enforcement actions involving 60 charged defendants across 11 federal districts, including 31 doctors, seven pharmacists, eight nurse practitioners, and seven other licensed medical professionals, for their alleged participation in the illegal prescribing and distributing of opioids and other dangerous narcotics and for health care fraud schemes. In addition, HHS announced today that since June 2018, it has excluded over 2,000 individuals from participation in Medicare, Medicaid and all other Federal health care programs, which includes more than 650 providers excluded for conduct related to opioid diversion and abuse. Since July 2017, DEA has issued 31 immediate suspension orders, 129 orders to show cause, and received 1,386 surrenders for cause nationwide for violations of the Controlled Substances Act.
“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 P. Barr said. “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. I am grateful to the Criminal Division, their U.S. Attorney partners, and to the members of the strike force for this outstanding work that holds the promise of saving many lives in Appalachian communities.”
“Reducing the illicit supply of opioids is a crucial element of President Trump’s plan to end this public health crisis,” said HHS Secretary Alex Azar. “It is also vital that Americans struggling with addiction have access to treatment and that patients who need pain treatment do not see their care disrupted, which is why federal and local public health authorities have coordinated to ensure these needs are met in the wake of this enforcement operation. The Trump Administration’s law enforcement and public health leaders will continue to work hand in hand to end this crisis that has hit Appalachia hard and steals far too many lives across America every day.”
Attorney General Barr and Secretary Azar were joined in the announcement by Assistant Attorney General Brian Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division; U.S. Attorney Robert M. Duncan Jr. for the Eastern District of Kentucky; U.S. Attorney Russell M. Coleman for the Western District of Kentucky; U.S. Attorney Benjamin C. Glassman for the Southern District of Ohio; U.S. Attorney William J. Powell for the Northern District of West Virginia; U.S. Attorney Michael B. Stuart for the Southern District of West Virginia; U.S. Attorney J. Douglas Overbey for the Eastern District of Tennessee; U.S. Attorney Don Cochran for the Middle District of Tennessee; U.S. Attorney D. Michael Dunavant for the Western District of Tennessee; U.S. Attorney Jay E. Town for the Northern District of Alabama; U.S. Attorney Thomas T. Cullen for the Western District of Virginia; Executive Assistant Director Amy Hess of the FBI’s Criminal, Cyber, Response, and Services Branch; Deputy Inspector General for Investigations Gary L. Cantrell of the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG), Assistant Administrator John J. Martin of the DEA Diversion Control Division, and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Deputy Administrator and Director of the Center for Program Integrity (CPI) Alec Alexander.
In addition to the cases announced yesterday, Attorney General Barr and U.S. Attorney Thomas T. Cullen announced today that the ARPO Strike Force will expand into the Western District of Virginia, making it the tenth ARPO Strike Force district. ARPO is a joint law enforcement effort that brings together the resources and expertise of the Health Care Fraud Unit in the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section (HCF Unit), the U.S. Attorney’s Offices for ten federal districts in six states, as well as law enforcement partners at the FBI, HHS Office of the Inspector General (HHS-OIG) and U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). In addition, the operation includes the participation of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, multiple State Medicaid Fraud Control Units, and other federal and state agencies. The mission of the ARPO Strike Force is to identify and investigate health care fraud schemes in the Appalachian region and surrounding areas, and to effectively and efficiently prosecute medical professionals and others involved in the illegal prescription and distribution of opioids.
The charges announced today involve individuals contributing to the opioid epidemic, with a particular focus on medical professionals involved in the unlawful distribution of opioids and other prescription narcotics, a priority for the Department. According to the CDC, approximately 130 Americans die every day of an opioid overdose.
“Today’s takedown demonstrates the FBI’s unwavering commitment to working alongside our Strike Force partners, including the HHS-OIG and DEA, to fight the opioid epidemic and related criminal activity in the Appalachian region,” said FBI Executive Assistant Director Hess. “We will not stand by and allow the harmful and oftentimes deadly practice of over-prescribing highly addictive drugs to continue unchecked. The FBI will pursue medical personnel who misuse their positions of trust to blatantly disregard others’ very lives for their own financial gain.”
“The opioid crisis has had a devastating impact in the Appalachian region,” said Principal Deputy Inspector General Chiedi. “Addressing this public health issue and ensuring beneficiaries have continuity of care requires a collaborative approach with our federal, state, and local partners. Our commitment is resolute. We will continue working together to protect the health and well-being of all Americans and ending this terrible epidemic.”
“Opioid misuse and abuse is an insidious epidemic, created in large part, by the over-prescribing of potent opioids nationwide, and unfortunately, Appalachia is at the center,” said DEA Assistant Administrator Martin. “Today’s announcement sends a clear message that investigations involving diversion of prescription drugs have been, and continue to be, a priority for DEA.”
“CMS CPI is proud to work very closely everyday with our law enforcement partners to stop the exploitation of vulnerable patients and misuse of taxpayer dollars,” said Deputy Administrator and Director of Center for Program Integrity Alexander. “Nowhere is this collaboration more important than in our fight against the opioid crisis in America. This is one of the President’s highest priorities and we are proud to be an important part of the largest prescription opioid enforcement effort ever undertaken. We will continue to work tirelessly through investigation, data coordination and administrative action to protect the health and wellbeing of all Americans.”
The ARPO Strike Force is made up of prosecutors and data analysts with the HCF Unit, prosecutors with the 10 U.S. Attorney’s Offices in the region, including the newly added Western District of Virginia, and special agents with the FBI, HHS-OIG and DEA. The ARPO Strike Force operates out of two hubs based in the Cincinnati, Ohio/Northern Kentucky and Nashville, Tennessee, areas, supporting the 10 districts that make up the ARPO Strike Force region. In addition, the APRO Strike Force works closely with other state and federal law enforcement agencies, including the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, State Medicaid Fraud Control Units.