More than 600 doctors, pharmacists, and other medical professionals have been charged with health care fraud as part of the U.S. government’s ongoing efforts to beat back the growing opioid epidemic.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the charges announced June 28 comprise “the nation’s largest-ever health care fraud takedown.”
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions called the opioid epidemic “the deadliest drug epidemic in the history of this country.” The epidemic killed about 64,000 people by addiction and overdose in 2016. The potent opioid painkiller fentanyl was the leading cause of most addiction and overdose cases.
The 601 people charged in the takedown include 76 doctors who allegedly prescribed and distributed opioids for profit, regardless of the drugs’ devastating effects on their patients.
“We have never seen anything like it,” Sessions said. “Some of our most trusted medical professionals look at their patients, vulnerable people suffering from addiction, and they see dollar signs.
“Many of these fraudsters have stolen tax dollars, and many have helped flood our streets with drugs,” he added. “One doctor allegedly defrauded Medicare of more than $112 million by distributing 2.2 million unnecessary dosages of drugs like oxycodone and fentanyl.”
Last year, a federal crackdown on opioid prescriptions and distribution resulted in charges against 400 people who defrauded U.S. health care programs and private insurance companies of $1.3 billion, the Justice Department said.
In many of the cases, patient recruiters, beneficiaries, and others were paid cash for supplying beneficiary information to health care providers so the providers could then submit fraudulent bills to Medicare, court documents allege.
The Justice Department said the sweep targeted districts where opioid abuse is especially prevalent. Hundreds of federal authorities with the Justice Department, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the FBI, the IRS Criminal Investigation department, and Health and Human Services Administration coordinated their efforts with more than 1,000 state, federal, local, and tribal law enforcement officers.