Federal prosecutors have announced this week that they are filing charges against 11 doctors for unlawfully distributing opioids and other substances in a large-scale operation. Two other individuals also face charges in relation to the scheme. The physicians hail from different regions and have different specialties, including a family physician, a coroner, and a psychiatrist. All are located in the Appalachian region, an area of the United States hit particularly hard by the opioid crisis.
According to the complaint, the operation that the doctors were running was responsible for distributing more than 17 million pills without the region via a series of "pill mill" clinics. Those charged include a West Virginia psychiatrist who provided a variety of Schedule II narcotics to a patient with no medical need for the drugs. Not only did the patient have no medical need for the drugs, but they also had a documented history of abusing narcotics, of which the psychiatrist was aware. Also charged was an Ohio physician whose practice focuses on opioid addiction treatment. He was charged with eight counts of distributing controlled substances. One of the individuals charged who was not a physician was the owner and operator of an in-home medical support service company. She was the architect of a scheme to defraud the Veterans Health Administration's Spina Bifida Health Care Benefits Program, an organization that is intended to provide monetary allowances, vocational training, and rehabilitation and VA-financed health care benefits to certain Korea and Vietnam Veterans' birth children who have been diagnosed with spina bifida (SB).
"The Department of Justice will not relent in its aggressive pursuit of those responsible for fueling the opioid epidemic in Appalachia,” said Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department's Criminal Division. “Medical professionals who violate their solemn oaths and peddle opioids for profit should know that we will find you and ensure that the justice system treats you like the drug dealer you are.”
These charges are part of the second coordinated law enforcement action of the Appalachian Region Prescription Opioid (ARPO) strike force. The first action, which took place in April, was wider in scale. It involved charges against 60 defendants, including 53 medical professionals, in 11 federal districts. This operation resulted in the illegal distribution of more than 23 million pills-enough for an opioid dose for every person in Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, and West Virginia. Eleven of the individuals charged in the first ARPO action have pleaded guilty.