Opioid Strike Force Takedown Targets Medical Professionals Across Seven States

By | Published On: April 26, 2019

Last week, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced the arrest of 60 individuals for allegedly participating in illegal prescribing and distributing opioids and other narcotics and for their participation in various health care fraud schemes relating to Medicaid and Medicare. Among the 60 individuals charged were 31 doctors, 7 pharmacists, 8 nurse practitioners, and 7 other licensed medical professionals. The DOJ estimated the defendants collectively wrote over 350,000 illegal prescriptions and distributed over 32 million pills.

Among those arrested were:

  • A doctor who is alleged to have been at one time the highest prescriber of controlled substances in Ohio and several pharmacists charged with operating an alleged “pill mill”
  • Several doctors who allegedly provided pre-signed, blank prescriptions to office staff who then used them to prescribe controlled substances
  • A dentist who was charged with writing prescriptions for opioids that had no legitimate medical purpose and that were outside the usual course of professional practices, removing teeth unnecessarily, scheduling unnecessary follow-up appointments, and billing inappropriately for services
  • A nurse practitioner who allegedly prescribed dangerous combinations of opioids and benzodiazepines, sometimes in exchange for sexual favors
  • A doctor who allegedly prescribed 4.2 million opioid pills, sometimes in dangerous combinations with other drugs, and prescribed opioids to known addicts
  • An orthopedic surgeon who allegedly used fraudulent prescriptions to obtain narcotics for his own use

The arrests were the work of the DOJ’s Criminal Division’s Appalachian Regional Prescription Opioid (ARPO) Strike Force which began operating in December 2018. The ARPO Strike Force focuses on the Appalachian region, including Tennessee, Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Alabama.  Most of the defendants in this recent enforcement action reside in Tennessee. In addition to the states targeted by the ARPO Strike Force, the recent enforcement actions included a case in Pennsylvania and one in Louisiana.  The DOJ announced that the ARPO Strike Force will now expand their focus to include the Western District of Virginia.

The DOJ press release notes that health care providers in the communities where the arrests took place may see an increase in patients seeking care (including prescriptions for opioids) and/or treatment.

For health centers in these communities and throughout the country, developing substance use disorder treatment services requires an understanding of the risks related to prescribing opioids and developing MAT services, along with a risk management plan developed to mitigate the health center’s specific risks. To learn more about FTLF’s upcoming workshop on Responding to the Opioid Crisis Workshop, click here.

Ms. Pledgie is a member of the New York and Massachusetts Bars and is not licensed in Washington, DC. Her practice is limited to federal health care matters.