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Department of Justice Announces the Establishment of the Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit

August 23, 2017

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In response to the nationwide opioid epidemic, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has announced the creation of the Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit. The announcement was made on August 2, 2017 by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who explained that for the next three years this new program will fund twelve experienced Assistant United States Attorneys who will focus exclusively on investigating and prosecuting health care fraud related to prescription opioids.

The DOJ is not the only federal agency that is focusing more resources on aggressively targeting the opioid epidemic. The Food and Drug Administration, Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General have also taken steps to more aggressively fight the opioid crisis.

The DOJ’s new program will utilize data to investigate physicians and pharmacies suspected of unlawfully diverting or dispensing opioids for illegal purposes. Under this new program, the DOJ will seek to detect possible kickback arrangements between prescribing providers and pharmacists or pharmaceutical companies, track the rates at which physicians write opioid prescriptions, review opioid prescriptions for medical necessity, and monitor the number of a physician’s patients who die within 60 days of an opioid prescription. Regarding such new resources to collect and analyze opioid data, Sessions commented that the DOJ “will be better positioned to identify, prosecute and convict some of the individuals contributing to these tens of thousands of deaths a year.”

The 12 districts that will initially participate in the new program are: the Middle District of Florida, Eastern District of Michigan, Northern District of Alabama, Eastern District of Tennessee, District of Nevada, Eastern District of Kentucky, District of Maryland, Western District of Pennsylvania, Southern District of Ohio, Eastern District of California, Middle District of North Carolina, and Southern District of West Virginia.

The establishment of the Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit was announced just days after the DOJ announced the nationwide takedown of 400 defendants accused of healthcare fraud. That takedown was the largest of its kind in history, and it included the arrest of over 50 physicians who have been charged with opioid-related crimes. According to Sessions, “[i]f you are a doctor illegally prescribing opioids for profit or a pharmacist letting these pills walk out the door and onto our streets based on prescriptions you know were obtained under false pretenses, we are coming after you.”

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