DOJ charges doctors across multiple states with illegally prescribing millions of narcotics

The Justice Department on Wednesday charged more than 50 medical professionals across five states with allegedly illegally prescribing and distributing more than 32 million pain pills.

The people charged include a dentist who allegedly unnecessarily pulled teeth in order to prescribe patients opioids, doctors who prescribed opioids in exchange for sexual favors, and a doctor who wrote prescriptions for Facebook friends in exchange for cash payments.

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The takedown resulted in the arrests of 60 people, including 31 doctors, seven pharmacists, eight nurse practitioners and seven other licensed medical professionals. According to the Department of Justice (DOJ), the suspects wrote more than 350,000 illegal prescriptions in Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama and West Virginia.

The DOJ said the action was the largest-ever prescription opioid law enforcement operation. More than 24,000 patients in the region received prescriptions from these medical professionals over the past two years, DOJ said.

“We will not stand by and allow the harmful and oftentimes deadly practice of over-prescribing highly addictive drugs to continue unchecked,” FBI Executive Assistant Director Amy Hess said in a statement. “The FBI will pursue medical personnel who misuse their positions of trust to blatantly disregard others’ very lives for their own financial gain.”

The Appalachian region has been hit especially hard by the effects of opioid misuse, and the charges are part of a broader joint effort by DOJ and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to combat the epidemic.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 130 Americans die every day from opioid overdoses.  

“It is ... 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,” HHS Secretary Alex Azar said in a statement.  

Azar said 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.”

The takedown targeted people across 11 federal districts. In one case in Tennessee, the DOJ described a doctor who branded himself the “Rock Doc,” who allegedly prescribed dangerous combinations of opioids and anti-anxiety drugs like Valium, sometimes in exchange for sex.

In Alabama, a doctor allegedly recruited prostitutes and other young women with whom he had sexual relationships to become patients at his clinic, while simultaneously allowing them to take illicit drugs at his house.

In another case in Alabama, a doctor was charged for allegedly prescribing opioids despite knowing that patients failed drug screens and were addicts, in exchange for cash payments and a “concierge fee,” which totaled approximately $600 per year for one patient.

Congressional investigations into the opioid epidemic have focused on the role of both manufacturers and drug distributors, as well as some of the early failings of the Drug Enforcement Administration to stop the flow of opioids into vulnerable rural areas.

Thousands of cities, counties and Native American tribes have filed lawsuits targeting the entire drug supply chain. A recent multimillion-dollar settlement between the state of Oklahoma and Purdue Pharma could influence the lawsuits facing opioid companies across the country.