New DOJ unit will use data analytics to combat opioid fraud

A new unit will focus specifically on illegal opioid distribution, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said.

The Department of Justice announced it will create a unit that will use healthcare fraud data to combat the opioid epidemic.

The Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit will focus specifically on illegal opioid distribution and will use fraud data to track down people who may be contributing to opioid addiction. In addition, DOJ will have 12 U.S. attorneys serve three-year terms dedicated to investigating healthcare fraud related to opioids, including pill mills and diversion, the agency announced.

That element of the program will be piloted in 12 districts, a number of which are located in states hit hardest by the opioid crisis: Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, Michigan, Alabama, Tennessee, Nevada, Kentucky, Maryland, California and West Virginia.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said that the two parts of the program will work in tandem: The unit will compile data that the prosecutors can use to investigate opioid fraud.

“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,” he said. “The Department is determined to attack this opioid epidemic, and I believe these resources will make a difference.”

RELATED: Healthcare fraud enforcement a priority for Department of Justice, official says

Both fraud prevention and the opioid crisis are priorities for federal agencies in the Trump administration. This week, the president’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, led by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, issued its first set of recommendations aimed at curbing the epidemic.

The new opioid unit is not the first time DOJ has used data analytics in fraud prevention, both specifically related to the opioid crisis and in broader prevention efforts.

In a previous interview with FierceHealthcare, Gejaa Gobena, a partner at Hogan Lovells in the District of Columbia and the former deputy chief of the fraud section in the DOJ’s criminal division, said that data analytics offers a number of benefits to investigators, including more timely information and allowing them to follow trends.

“That access to real-time data really revolutionized the way the government has been able to investigate and prosecute healthcare fraud cases,” Gobena said.

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