Some 60 doctors, pharmacists and other licensed medical professionals in five states are being charged in connection with illegally prescribing more than 32 million pain pills, in some cases for sexual favors, federal prosecutors said Wednesday.
The people charged across 11 federal districts, include 31 doctors, seven pharmacists, eight nurse practitioners, and seven other licensed medical professionals, the Justice Department said. The cases involve more than 350,000 prescriptions for controlled substances across Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, and West Virginia. The arrests were the latest effort to combat the nationwide opioid epidemic.
"The opioid epidemic is the deadliest drug crisis in American history, and Appalachia has suffered the consequences more than perhaps any other region," U.S. Attorney General William Barr said in a statement. "But the Department of Justice is doing its part to help end this crisis."
The indictments come as some 1,600 cases against the biggest opioid manufacturers in the country are being consolidated and transferred before U.S. Judge Dan Aaron Polster of the Northern District of Ohio. The companies are being accused by numerous counties, cities, states and Native American tribes of downplaying the risks of addiction to doctors and patients while exaggerating their painkillers' benefits.
From 1999 to 2017, nearly 218,000 people have died in the United States from overdoses related to prescription opioids, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 130 Americans a day die of an opioid-related overdose, the agency says.
The Justice Department said six individuals, including two doctors and three registered pharmacists were charged with several counts, including unlawful distribution of controlled substances and conspiracy to obtain controlled substances by fraud.
One arrest made public Wednesday involved a doctor in Kentucky who allegedly prescribed opioids to friends on Facebook, who would then come to his home to pick up prescriptions.
Another case involved a doctor in Tennessee who branded himself the "Rock Doc." He allegedly prescribed combinations of dangerous combinations of opioids and benzodiazepines, a class of psychoactive drugs, sometimes in exchange for sexual favors.
The Appalachian Regional Prescription Strike Force was formed late last year to help combat the nationwide opioid epidemic. The strike force is working with the CDC, the Department of Health and Human Services, and local public health official, and analyzed databases to identify suspicious prescribing activity.
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