Appalachian Regional Prescription Opioid Strike Force Takedown Results in Charges Against 60 Individuals, Including 53 Medical Professionals
ARPO Strike Force Grows to Ten Districts, Expanding to Include the
Western District of Virginia
ROANOKE, VIRGINIA – Attorney General William P. Barr, Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex M. Azar III together with multiple law enforcement partners, today announced enforcement actions involving 60 charged defendants across 11 federal districts, including 31 doctors, 7 pharmacists, 8 nurse practitioners, and 7 other licensed medical professionals, for their alleged participation in the illegal prescribing and distributing of opioids and other dangerous narcotics and for health care fraud schemes. In addition, HHS announced today that since June 2018, it has excluded over 2,000 individuals from participation in Medicare, Medicaid, and all other Federal health care programs, which includes more than 650 providers excluded for conduct related to opioid diversion and abuse. Since July 2017, DEA has issued 31 immediate suspension orders, 129 orders to show cause, and received 1386 surrenders for cause nationwide for violations of the Controlled Substances Act.
“The opioid epidemic is the deadliest drug crisis in American history, and Appalachia has suffered the consequences more than perhaps any other region,” Attorney General William P. Barr said. “But the Department of Justice is doing its part to help end this crisis. One of the Department’s most promising new initiatives is the Criminal Division’s Appalachian Regional Prescription Opioid Strike Force, which began its work in December. Just four months later, this team of federal agents and 12 prosecutors has charged 60 defendants for alleged crimes related to millions of prescriptions. I am grateful to the Criminal Division, their U.S. Attorney partners, and to the members of the strike force for this outstanding work that holds the promise of saving many lives in Appalachian communities.”
In addition to the cases announced today, Attorney General Barr and U.S. Attorney Thomas T. Cullen announced today that the ARPO Strike Force will expand into the Western District of Virginia, making it the tenth ARPO Strike Force district. ARPO is a joint law enforcement effort that brings together the resources and expertise of the Health Care Fraud Unit in the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section (HCF Unit), the U.S. Attorney’s Offices for ten federal districts in six states, as well as law enforcement partners at the FBI, HHS Office of the Inspector General (HHS-OIG) and U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). In addition, the operation includes the participation of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and multiple State Medicaid Fraud Control Units. The mission of the ARPO Strike Force is to identify and investigate health care fraud schemes in the Appalachian region and surrounding areas, and to effectively and efficiently prosecute medical professionals and others involved in the illegal prescription and distribution of opioids.
“The opioid epidemic has ravaged communities throughout the Western District of Virginia,” U.S. Attorney Cullen stated today. “In order to mitigate this crisis, we are working closely with our federal, state, and local partners on targeted and impactful enforcement initiatives, including the prosecution of corrupt health-care providers, drug-trafficking organizations, and those involved in Fentanyl distribution. I am grateful to Attorney General Barr for deploying the ARPO Strike Force into Western Virginia and dedicating additional resources to help us with these critical efforts.”
The charges announced today involve individuals contributing to the opioid epidemic, with a particular focus on medical professionals involved in the unlawful distribution of opioids and other prescription narcotics, a priority for the Department. According to the CDC, approximately 115 Americans die every day of an opioid-related overdose.
The ARPO Strike Force is made up of prosecutors and data analysts with the HCF Unit, prosecutors with the ten U.S. Attorney’s Offices in the region, including the newly added Western District of Virginia, and special agents with the FBI, HHS-OIG and DEA. The ARPO Strike Force operates out of two hubs based in the Cincinnati, Ohio/Northern Kentucky and Nashville, Tennessee, areas, supporting the ten districts that make up the ARPO Strike Force region. In addition, the APRO Strike Force works closely with other state and federal law enforcement agencies, including the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, State Medicaid Fraud Control Units.
For any patients impacted by the law enforcement operations, DOJ, DEA, HHS-OIG, HHS’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, CDC’s Opioid Rapid Response Team and all 5 State Departments of Health are deploying federal and state-level strategies to address patient harm and insure continuity of care. Additional information regarding available treatment programs and where patients can turn for assistance is available as follows:
The Fraud Section leads the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, which is part of a joint initiative between the Department of Justice and HHS to focus their efforts to prevent and deter fraud and enforce current anti-fraud laws around the country. Since its inception in March 2007, the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, which maintains 14 strike forces operating in 23 districts, has charged nearly 4,000 defendants who have collectively billed the Medicare program for more than $14 billion. The Medicare Fraud Strike Force, including the ARPO Strike Force, has charged more than 200 individuals with opioid-related crimes.