Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Wednesday the formation of an opioid fraud and abuse unit the Justice Department will use to target doctors and pharmacies that are contributing to the opioid crisis through fraudulent or excessive prescriptions.
Twelve federal prosecutors in jurisdictions hit by the opioid epidemic will be detailed for three years to focus exclusively on bringing cases against those involved in health care fraud related to prescription opioids, “including pill mill schemes and pharmacies that unlawfully divert or dispense prescription opioids for illegitimate purposes,” according to a Justice Department announcement issued Wednesday.
Mr. Sessions announced the formation of the unit as he spoke at a graduation ceremony for the Columbus Police Academy in Ohio, noting that southern Ohio would be one of the 12 areas targeted by the new initiative.
“This crisis affects all of us, but it is especially taking its toll on this community. On average, one person in Columbus dies of a drug overdose every day. And that pace is only accelerating,” Mr. Sessions said, noting that more than 4,000 people died of drug overdoses in Ohio last year. “These aren’t just numbers. These are moms and dads. These are sisters, brothers, and grandchildren. These are neighbors and co-workers. These are friends. These are Americans.”
Part of the new unit’s job will also be to collect data on opioid abuse and prescriptions, so that officials can more quickly identify problematic trends such as doctors who write opioid prescriptions as rates far exceeding that of their peers, Mr. Sessions said.
“With these new resources, we will be better positioned to identify, prosecute, and convict some of the individuals contributing to these tens of thousands of deaths a year,” the attorney general said.
The U.S. Attorney’s Offices selected to participate in the opioid unit program are the 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, and Southern District of West Virginia.