A day after President Trump signed a massive piece of legislation responding to the opioid crisis into law, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced it's pouring even more resources into its crackdown on prescribers.
Speaking in Washington, D.C., at the DOJ's National Opioid Summit on Thursday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said his agency was creating a new Appalachian Regional Prescription Opioid Strike Force to focus on communities "hit especially hard by addiction and opioid fraud."
As part of it, a dozen prosecutors and data analysts will operate out of hubs in Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky and Nashville, Tennessee, monitoring the Appalachian region for fraudulent opioid prescriptions by physicians, Sessions said.
"We will be relentless, we will continue to get smarter and better at our work," Sessions said.
Already, the Justice Department has Medicare Fraud Strike Force units in 12 cities across the country including Miami, Los Angeles, Detroit, Houston, Brooklyn, Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Tampa, Chicago, Dallas, D.C. and Philadelphia. Sessions said these prosecutors have begun benefiting from a new data analytics program called the Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit.
"This team follows the numbers—like which doctors are writing opioid prescriptions at a rate that far exceeds their peers; how many of a doctor's patients have died within 60 days of an opioid prescription; and pharmacies that are dispensing disproportionately large amounts of opioids," Sessions said.
He also said he started a new effort called Operation S.O.S. to send 10 more prosecutors to help implement the strategy in 10 districts around the country where drug-related deaths are especially high.
In January, Sessions announced that the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) would step up efforts to focus on prescribers and pharmacies that dispense unusual or disproportionate amounts of drugs. In June, the DOJ charged more than 600 in a historic fraud takedown involving $2 billion in false claims, with much of the focus on opioid distribution, in which 162 individuals were charged with illegally prescribing or distributing narcotics.