Dozens charged in opioid network accused of distributing 23 million pills
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The Department of Justice (DOJ) has charged 41 people in nine indictments for their alleged involvement in “pill mill” clinics and pharmacies that have distributed more than 23 million oxycodone, hydrocodone and carisoprodol pills across the country, according to a statement from the DOJ.

The alleged trafficking network was composed of medical providers, clinic owners, pharmacists, drug dealers and traffickers, who have been apprehended and shut down by the government, and who allegedly knew "the prescriptions had no legitimate medical purpose and were outside the usual course of professional practice." 

The charges involve 16 medical professionals, including four doctors, who are all charged with felony controlled substances violations. The DOJ said 36 warrants were served on 15 pharmacies, six pill mill clinics and 15 other offices and residences.

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"This type of criminal activity is, in part, what is fueling the 68,500 overdose deaths per year across the United States," Special Agent in Charge Will R. Glaspy of the Drug Enforcement Agency's Houston Division said.

"The DEA and our numerous law enforcement partners will not sit silently while drug dealers wearing lab coats conspire with street dealers to flood our communities with over 23 million dangerous and highly addictive pills," he added.   

The DEA also immediately suspended orders on seven pharmacies and two drug providers allegedly involved in distributing drugs without a legitimate medical reason.

Pills were allegedly trafficked from Houston to Boston, and "in some cases, 'crew leaders' and 'runners' allegedly filled or had the individuals who posed as patients fill the illegal prescriptions," according to a Justice Department statement.

Assistant Attorney General Brian Benczkowski thanked officials in the Criminal Division’s Houston Health Care Fraud Strike Force, who worked with the U.S. Attorney’s Offices for the Southern and Eastern Districts of Texas and Massachusetts.

“I have a message for those doctors, pharmacists, and other medical professionals engaging in this criminal behavior across the state of Texas and elsewhere in America: you may think you are invisible. But the data in our possession allows us to see you and see you clearly, no matter where you are.  And if you behave like a drug dealer, we are going to find you, and treat you like a drug dealer,” Benczkowski said at a news conference in Houston Wednesday.

Benczkowski alleged that one Houston-area doctor prescribed 2 million pills, including more than 800,000 oxycodone pills and almost 450,000 hydrocodone pills. Another Houston-area doctor allegedly prescribed more than 800,000 doses of oxycodone in less than 20 months.

Benczkowski also alleged that a pharmacist-in-charge at a pill mill clinic released the second-highest amount of oxycodone pills of all pharmacies in the state of Texas — the ninth greatest amount in the country.

“Amazingly, 100% of the oxycodone dispended by this pharmacy — every single oxycodone pill that left the premises — was in the highest available dosage strength of that drug,” Benczkowski told reporters.

"Opioid abuse has a devastating and far reaching effect on our society," Special Agent in Charge Perrye K. Turner of the FBI’s Houston Field Office also said in the Justice Department's statement.

"The doctors, nurses and pharmacists in this case allegedly misused their positions, violating the trust of the public they took an oath to serve. Together with their co-conspirators, these medical professionals released millions of highly addictive drugs onto the streets of our community."

Benczkowski also announced the creation of a health care fraud strike force in the Rio Grande Valley and San Antonio areas, including “5 new prosecutors to laser-focus our efforts in Texas to prosecute dirty doctors, clinic owners, pharmacists, and drug dealers.”