DOJ's Appalachian Opioids Task Force Expanded to Tenth District
Attorney General William Barr and U.S. Attorney Thomas T. Cullen announced the Appalachian Regional Prescription Opioid Strike Force will expand into the Western District of Virginia, making it the tenth ARPO Strike Force district.
The Appalachian Regional Prescription Opioid Strike Force, an initiative of the U.S. Justice Department's Criminal Division, went to work in December 2018. DOJ officials including Attorney General William Barr announced April 17 enforcement actions that involve 60 charged defendants across 11 federal districts, including 31 doctors, seven pharmacists, eight nurse practitioners, and seven other licensed medical professionals, for allegedly participating in the illegal prescribing and distribution of opioids and other dangerous narcotics and for health care fraud schemes. HHS also announced that, since June 2018, it has excluded more than 2,000 individuals from participation in Medicare, Medicaid, and all other federal health care programs, including more than 650 providers excluded for conduct related to opioid diversion and abuse.
The charges involve more than 350,000 prescriptions for controlled substances and more than 32 million pills, according to DOJ's announcement.
Barr and U.S. Attorney Thomas T. Cullen announced that the strike force will expand into the Western District of Virginia, making it the tenth ARPO Strike Force district. Cullen is the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Virginia.
"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. "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 14 prosecutors has charged 60 defendants for alleged crimes related to millions of prescription opioids. 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."
"Reducing the illicit supply of opioids is a crucial element of President Trump's plan to end this public health crisis," said HHS Secretary Alex Azar. "It is also vital that Americans struggling with addiction have access to treatment and that patients who need pain treatment do not see their care disrupted, which is why federal and local public health authorities have coordinated to ensure these needs are met in the wake of this enforcement operation."
Citing CDC, the announcement said about 130 Americans are dying per day from an opioid overdose.
"Today's takedown demonstrates the FBI's unwavering commitment to working alongside our Strike Force partners, including the HHS-OIG and DEA, to fight the opioid epidemic and related criminal activity in the Appalachian region," said Executive Assistant Director Amy Hess of the FBI's Criminal, Cyber, Response, and Services Branch. "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."