As evidenced by last week’s blog, the Allegiant Experts team pays pretty close attention to our nation’s opioid epidemic. It is with good reason. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that from 1999 to 2019, nearly 500,000 people died from an overdose involving any opioid, including prescription and illicit opioids.
Naturally, the Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG) is every bit as concerned about the opioid crisis as we are. Yesterday, they announced a new nationwide law enforcement action. According to their report, 14 defendants, including 12 medical professionals, were charged for their alleged participation in the illegal prescription and distribution of opioids.
The charges involve 5.1 million pills and roughly $7 million in opioid-related fraud loss.
Defendants involved in the offenses span throughout Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee, New Jersey and West Virginia. In its report on the matter, the United States Department of Justice revealed that one of the cases announced yesterday charged a Kentucky-based dentist with unlawfully prescribing morphine. In August 2020, the dentist issued three opioid prescriptions to a 24-year-old patient over a five-day period. The DoJ reports that the patient died from a morphine overdose, allegedly from one of the dentist-issued prescriptions.
“Another case charged a former nurse and clinic director in Tennessee with unlawfully obtaining opioid pain pills for personal use and further distribution by filling fraudulent prescriptions in the names of current and former hospice patients,” reports the DoJ. The nurse used the patients’ hospice benefits to cover the costs of the unlawfully obtained prescriptions opioids.
In a third case, a Kentucky doctor was charged with illegal opioid distribution.
The DoJ reports that the physician prescribed the drugs to patients with health care treatments that were paid for by taxpayer-funded programs like Medicare and Medicaid. The defendant is alleged to have preyed on these patients for continued access to the programs. That way, the doctor could bill them for medically unnecessary procedures.
In the announcement about the new opioid enforcement action yesterday, it was made clear that the Health Care Fraud Unit’s Appalachian Regional Prescription Opioid (ARPO) Strike Force means business. Over the past three years, the DoJ reveals, ARPO has charged 111 defendants with crimes related to the unlawful distribution of prescription opioids. All in all, the perpetrators issued prescriptions for over 115 million controlled substance pills.
Inspector General Christi A. Grimm of HHS-OIG spoke about the new enforcement action.
“Those who illegally prescribe opioids not only undermine critical efforts to address the epidemic; they also put patients at risk of overdose and physical harm,” she is quoted as saying in the DoJ report, “This enforcement action demonstrates HHS-OIG’s commitment to working with our law enforcement partners to hold accountable bad actors who abuse their status as health care providers and exploit the opioid epidemic for personal gain.”
Administrator Anne Milgram of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) added the following: “Doctors and health care professionals are entrusted with prescribing medicine responsibly and in the best interests of their patients. Today’s takedown targets medical providers across the country whose greed drove them to abandon this responsibility in favor of criminal profits.”
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