Charges involve over 350 thousand prescriptions for controlled substances and over 32 million pills; ARPO Strike Force grows to ten districts, expanding to include the Western District of Virginia
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WASHINGTON – Attorney General William P. Barr and Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex M. Azar II, together with multiple law enforcement partners, today 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,” said Attorney General Barr. “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 Secretary 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, Assistant Administrator John J. Martin of the DEA Diversion Control Division, and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Deputy Administrator and Director of the Center for Program Integrity Alec Alexander.
In addition to the cases announced today, 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, 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 and U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. 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.
“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.”
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.
For the ARPO Strike force locations, in the Southern District of Ohio, six individuals, including two doctors and three registered pharmacists were charged with several counts, including unlawful distribution of controlled substances and conspiracy to obtain controlled substances by fraud. In one case, a doctor who is alleged to have been at one time the highest prescriber of controlled substances in the state, and several pharmacists are charged with operating an alleged “pill mill” in Dayton, Ohio. According to the indictment, between October 2015 and October 2017 alone, the pharmacy allegedly dispensed over 1.75 million pills. These cases were brought with assistance from the FBI, DEA and HHS-OIG, as well as the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, Medicaid Fraud Control Unit; the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation Ohio; the Ohio Board of Pharmacy and the Ohio Medical Board.
For any patients impacted by the law enforcement operations, DOJ, DEA, HHS-OIG, HHS’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and all five State Departments of Health are deploying federal and state-level strategies to address patient harm and insure continuity of care. Additional information regarding available treatment programs and where patients can turn for assistance is available as follows:
Alabama: The Alabama Department of Mental Health has a dedicated telephone number to connect those affected by the closure. The toll-free substance abuse number is 1-844-307-1760. Information about substance abuse and opioids is available at the following websites:
Kentucky: If you are in Kentucky and are suffering with addiction you can find help by calling 833-8KY-HELP or logging in at Findhelpnowky.org
Ohio: If you are seeking help in Ohio, please call the OhioMHAS patient helpline, at 1-877-275-6364
Tennessee: If you are seeking help in Tennessee:
- For a referral to addiction treatment services, call the Tennessee REDLINE: 800-889-9789.
- In a mental health crisis, call the Statewide Crisis Line: 855-CRISIS-1 (855-274-7471).
- For help accessing substance abuse or mental health services call the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services Helpline: 800-560-5767 or 615-532-6700. This line is staffed Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. CT.
For individuals seeking help in other states, please call 1-800-662-HELP
The Fraud Section leads the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, which is part of a joint initiative between the Department of Justice and HHS to focus their efforts to prevent and deter fraud and enforce current anti-fraud laws around the country. Since its inception in March 2007, the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, which maintains 14 strike forces operating in 23 districts, has charged nearly 4,000 defendants who have collectively billed the Medicare program for more than $14 billion. The Medicare Fraud Strike Force, including the ARPO Strike Force, has charged more than 200 individuals with opioid-related crimes.
If you, a family member, friend or loved one believe you may be a victim in any of these cases or in connection with any charged defendant, please visit the following website for additional information: www.justice.gov/criminal-vns/case/ARPO