Over 60 people have been charged in an investigation spanning seven states that targeted medical professionals who illegally prescribed more than 32 million opioid pills, reports The Washington Post.
Brian Benczkowski, an assistant attorney general in charge of the Justice Department's criminal division, revealed that many doctors agreed to write bogus prescriptions for opioids such as oxycodone and hydrocodone in exchange for sexual favors.
"What these doctors have done is pretty remarkable in its brazenness."The investigation was spearheaded by the Appalachian Regional Prescription Opioid Strike Force, as the region has been particularly hit hard with the opioid epidemic. The seven states targeted were Alabama, Kentucky, Louisiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and West Virginia. Attorney General William Barr released a statement on the arrests.
"The opioid epidemic is the deadliest drug crisis in American history, and Appalachia has suffered the consequences more than perhaps any other region."All in all, 350,000 fake prescriptions were estimated to have been written in the scam. Benczkowski expressed the magnitude of that number in an interview with the Washington Post.
"That is the equivalent of one opioid dose for every man, woman and child."The report details the horrifying lengths some patients would go to get their opioid fix. In one case, a doctor would pull out patients' healthy teeth in order to grant prescriptions. Fees would be paid in cash.
Other doctors resorted to obfuscation to hide their lenient practices. For example, many doctors instructed their patients to fill out multiple prescriptions at various pharmacies to avoid detection.
Benczkowski was adamant that the doctors and other medical workers would face justice.
"If these medical professionals behave like drug dealers, you can rest assured that the Justice Department is going to treat them like drug dealers."One of the worst cases was a doctor in Alabama who recruited prostitutes to be his patients and offered drug usage for an annual $600 "concierge" fee. Another standout case was a doctor in Ohio who ran a "pill mill," dispensing more than 1.7 million pills between October of 2015 and October of 2017.
The Justice Department has recently been targeting doctors and medical workers in an effort to help stem the growing opioid crisis. In 2018, the department charged 162 defendants, including 76 doctors, for fraudulently or recklessly distributing the highly addictive drugs.
The epidemic has been an astronomical tragedy for many in the country, claiming as many as 218,000 American lives over the past 20 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
However, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar was quick to reassure those suffering from medical issues that the investigation was cognizant of avoiding any lapses in care, while helping those facing addiction.
"It is... vital that Americans struggling with addiction have access to treatment and that patients who need pain treatment do not see their care disrupted."