Doctors in 5 states charged with illegally prescribing opioids, some in exchange for cash, sex

Following undercover investigations by an opioid strike force, the government has charged 60 people in five states, including 53 medical professionals, with illegally prescribing opioids and other narcotics, some in exchange for cash and sex.

In what was described as the largest ever prescription opioid law enforcement operation, charges were brought against 31 doctors, seven pharmacists, eight nurse practitioners and seven other licensed medical professionals for their alleged participation in the illegal prescribing and distribution of opioids and other drugs, according to a Justice Department announcement.

The Justice Department alleges the health professionals in the Appalachian region were responsible for illegally dispensing 32 million pills and more than 350,000 prescriptions for controlled substances.

The charges were brought as a result of action by the Appalachian Regional Prescription Opioid Task Force, which began work in December, and involved prescriptions written in Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee, Alabama and West Virginia.

The law enforcement operation is part of an effort by the Justice Department and other government agencies to combat the country’s opioid epidemic.

According to law enforcement officials, as part of the multistate investigation, a dentist in Kentucky was charged with conduct that included removing teeth unnecessarily in order to write prescriptions for opioids. In another case in Kentucky, a doctor allegedly signed prescriptions for people based on messenger requests to his office manager who then delivered the prescriptions in exchange for cash.

According to the Justice Department's charges, a doctor in Tennessee who branded himself the "Rock Doc" allegedly prescribed dangerous combinations of opioids and benzodiazepines, sometimes in exchange for sexual favors.

The charges were announced by Attorney General William Barr, Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and multiple law enforcement agencies. 

RELATED: 4 tips to protect physician practices against healthcare fraud, from a former prosecutor turned defense attorney

“We will not stand by and allow the harmful and oftentimes deadly practice of over-prescribing highly addictive drugs to continue unchecked. The FBI will pursue medical personnel who misuse their positions of trust to blatantly disregard others’ very lives for their own financial gain,” FBI Executive Assistant Director Amy Hess said in the announcement.

Charges against the individuals include unlawful distribution or dispensing of controlled substances by a medical professional and healthcare fraud.

“The opioid epidemic is the deadliest drug crisis in American history, and Appalachia has suffered the consequences more than perhaps any other region,” Barr said in the announcement.