Attorney General Jeff Sessions says government will increase scrutiny on providers who prescribe opioids

Prescription and pills
Doctors continue to face criminal charges in the effort to combat the country's opioid epidemic.(Getty/Gti337)

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said this week that the government will increase its efforts to combat the opioid epidemic, including a focus on prescribers who dispense the drugs.

In a speech, Sessions said that over the next 45 days, the Drug Enforcement Administration will direct special agents, diversion investigators and intelligence research specialists to focus on prescribers and pharmacies that dispense unusual or disproportionate amounts of drugs.

DEA officials will use reports to find patterns, trends and statistical outliers and target providers for arrests, Sessions said.

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“That will help us make more arrests, secure more convictions—and ultimately help us reduce the number of prescription drugs available for Americans to get addicted to or overdose from these dangerous drugs,” he said.

The government's efforts may be ramping up, but prescribers are already in the legal crosshairs.  

A Marianna, Florida, doctor was convicted last week in a drug trafficking conspiracy in which he wrote more than 1,000 prescriptions for close to 50,000 pills over a nine-month period.

A Jackson County jury found internal medicine practitioner David Arthur Flick guilty of two counts of conspiracy to traffic in oxycodone, one count of conspiracy to traffic in hydrocodone and six counts of being a principal to obtaining a controlled substance by fraud, according to the Crestview News Bulletin.

Prosecutors said Flick was part of an extensive drug trafficking conspiracy in Northwest Florida. Over a nine-month period in 2015, he wrote prescriptions for controlled substances in exchange for cash or the recruitment of other patients. He's scheduled for sentencing Feb. 13.

RELATED: Another physician is indicted for opioid overdose deaths—and the DEA warns it's 'sending a message'

In a separate case, a New Jersey endocrinologist who was accused of murdering his wife and running a so-called opioid pill mill, was found dead in jail. The death of James Kauffman, M.D., was an apparent suicide, according to a statement from the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office, which said he was housed in the Hudson County Jail as a result of credible threats to his life.

Kauffman was facing criminal charges for allegedly hiring someone to murder his wife in 2012 after she threatened to expose a drug distribution ring he allegedly ran with a motorcycle club, according to USA Today. Kauffman and Ferdinand Augello, described as a leader of the Cape May County chapter of the Pagans motorcycle gang, were charged earlier this month with the murder-for-hire of the doctor's wife, radio host April Kauffman, 47.

Sessions also announced Monday a new resource to help federal law enforcement officials disrupt illicit online opioid sales. Sessions said he will assign dozens more federal agents and analysts to that effort through the formation of the Joint Criminal Opioid Darknet Enforcement (J-CODE) team.

RELATED: Attorney General Jeff Sessions targets medical professionals in 12 U.S. opioid epidemic ‘hot spots’

Sessions last fall said his department will not let up on efforts to go after doctors and other medical professionals who overprescribe opioids. 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.