doj opioid arrests
BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - MARCH 16: Nurses in the accident and emergency dept of Selly Oak Hospital work during a busy shift on March 16, 2010 in Birmingham, England. As the UK gears up for one of the most hotly contested general elections in recent history it is expected that that the economy, immigration, industry, the NHS and education are likely to form the basis of many of the debates. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

In what’s being described as the “largest healthcare fraud take-down in U.S. history,” the U.S. Department of Justice has charged 601 people, including over 100 doctors and nurses, for their alleged roles in health care fraud and opioid-related crimes that resulted in an estimated $2 billion in losses.

Per a press release issued Thursday, DOJ charged 76 doctors, 23 pharmacists, 19 nurses and other medical personnel for their alleged roles in fraudulently prescribing opioid painkillers.

The charges include fraudulent billing of private insurers and government programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, and Tricare, as well as the unnecessary prescription of drugs and compounded medications. In one of the indictments, an attorney/marketer “paid kickbacks and offered incentives such as prostitutes and expensive meals to two podiatrists in exchange for prescriptions written on pre-printed prescription pads, regardless of the medical need for the prescriptions.”

In a statement Thursday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions slammed the medical personnel involved for preying on people suffering from drug addiction:

“Health care fraud is a betrayal of vulnerable patients, and often it is theft from the taxpayer. In many cases, doctors, nurses, and pharmacists take advantage of people suffering from drug addiction in order to line their pockets. These are despicable crimes. That’s why this Department of Justice has taken historic new steps to go after fraudsters, including hiring more prosecutors and leveraging the power of data analytics. Today the Department of Justice is announcing the largest health care fraud enforcement action in American history. This is the most fraud, the most defendants, and the most doctors ever charged in a single operation—and we have evidence that our ongoing work has stopped or prevented billions of dollars’ worth of fraud.”

Opioid addiction has become an epidemic in the United States: according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 42,000 people died from opioid overdoses in 2016. And rather than help end the epidemic, doctors have enabled it. From May 2014 to June 2018, health care fraud skyrocketed from $260 million in losses to $2.08 billion.

In the June 2018 bust, DOJ arrested and charged individuals across 32 states and the District of Columbia.

So how did we get here? Notably, the opioid crisis began in rural America among low-income whites. Faced with a lack of jobs and living in poverty, they turned to drugs. Indeed, Rust Belt states have been the hardest hit, with emergency room visits rising 108 percent in Wisconsin, 80 percent in Pennsylvania, and 65 percent in Illinois, according to a March 2018 CDC report. Notably, it was Rust Belt and blue collar Americans who elected Donald Trump president.

America’s rural towns are struggling financially, and the opioid epidemic is only exacerbating the problem. The DOJ drug bust is a crucial first step in ending the cycle of suffering.

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