DEA opioid crackdown leads to arrests of 28 medical professionals

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been making good on a promise to crackdown on opioid prescribers with the arrests of nearly 30 medical professionals in the last two months.

Over 45 days in February and March, the Drug Enforcement Administration undertook an enforcement “surge” to identify and investigate prescribers and pharmacies that dispensed large amounts of drugs, including prescription opioids, the Justice Department said in an announcement Monday. The Drug Enforcement Administration also revoked the licenses of 147 prescribers to keep them from dispensing controlled substances as part of a nationwide effort to curb opioid abuse. 

In all, the review of drug transactions ordered by Attorney General Jeff Sessions sparked 188 investigations that resulted in the arrests and other enforcement actions including the immediate revocation of DEA registrations to dispense controlled drugs.

In January, Sessions announced the DEA would direct special agents, diversion investigators and intelligence research specialists to focus on prescribers and pharmacies that dispense unusual or disproportionate amounts of drugs.

Sessions promised continued enforcement of the country’s drug laws. “Our efforts are just getting started,” he said, noting more DEA task force officers and analysts will target places hardest hit by the opioid crisis. “These new resources will help us catch and convict more of the drug traffickers and corrupt medical professionals who are fueling the opioid crisis.”

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The government expanded efforts of its Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit, which is designed to combat the overprescribing of opioid painkillers that have contributed to the country’s opioid epidemic, and in August assigned 12 prosecutors to focus solely on opioid-related fraud cases in a dozen hot-spot locations around the country.

In the efforts to reverse the country’s opioid epidemic, doctors and other medical professionals have found themselves in the legal crosshairs. They have increasingly faced criminal charges, including murder, when patients overdose on opioid painkillers they prescribed.

In a separate action Monday, the Justice Department sought court permission to participate in settlement negotiations to resolve lawsuits filed by state and local governments against opioid manufacturers and distributors. The Justice Department announced it had filed a motion to participate as a “friend of the court’ in the ongoing litigation, which would not make the agency a direct party to the case, but allow it to provide information and expertise that could lead to a settlement.