DOJ Announces Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit, Followed by Large Drug Diversion Case
On August 2, 2017, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the formation of an Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit as a new Department of Justice (DOJ) pilot program to “utilize data to help combat the devastating opioid crisis that is ravaging families and communities across America.” The new unit will focus on identifying and prosecuting people who contribute to the nation’s prescription opioid fraud and abuse epidemic.
In his remarks announcing the effort, AG Sessions explained, “this sort of data analytics team can tell us important information about prescription opioids—like which physicians are writing opioid prescriptions at a rate that far exceeds their peers; how many of a doctor's patients died within 60 days of an opioid prescription; the average age of the patients receiving these prescriptions; pharmacies that are dispensing disproportionately large amounts of opioids; and regional hot spots for opioid issues.”
As part of the program, the Department of Justice plans to fund a dozen experienced Assistant United States Attorneys who will serve three-year terms and focus solely on investigating and prosecuting health care fraud related to prescription opioids, including pill mill schemes and pharmacies that unlawfully divert or dispense prescription opioids for illegitimate purposes. The following districts have been selected to participate in the program:
- Middle District of Florida
- Eastern District of Michigan
- Northern District of Alabama
- Eastern District of Tennessee
- District of Nevada
- Eastern District of Kentucky
- District of Maryland
- Western District of Pennsylvania
- Southern District of Ohio
- Eastern District of California
- Middle District of North Carolina
- Southern District of West Virginia
On the heels of the Detection Unit pilot program announcement, on August 3, DOJ also announced a large drug diversion case in the state of California. Twelve defendants were taken into custody on federal drug trafficking charges, including operators of seven sham medical clinics. The case alleges that the defendants are responsible for diverting at least 2 million prescription pills – including oxycodone and other addictive and dangerous narcotics – to the black market for sale on the street.
The case involves the alleged hiring of corrupt physicians who permitted the conspirators to issue fraudulent prescriptions under their names in exchange for kickbacks. The conspirators also allegedly stole the identities of doctors who refused to participate in the scheme. In fact, according to court documents, the conspirators allegedly issued prescriptions and submitted fraudulent billings in the name of a doctor who at the time was hospitalized and later died.
The DOJ’s press announcement of the case includes additional detail, including the identities of the 12 defendants. In addition to those defendants to have been charged, authorities continue to seek two fugitives named in the main indictment.