Health Care

NC pill pushers among those targeted nationwide by new federal opioid program

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Wednesday the Justice Department is hiring 12 federal prosecutors to tackle opioid-related healthcare fraud.

The plan will work in conjunction with a data program, focusing on finding those who are illegally distributing prescription drugs.

In addition to using data analytics to identify and prosecute illegal prescribers, the program will assign an experienced DOJ attorney to each district for the sole goal of investigating and prosecuting fraudulent opioid prescribing, often referred to as "pill mill" schemes. "We must create a culture that's hostile to drug abuse". "We will reverse these devastating trends with every tool we have".

It might be a winnable war, but the fight requires a lot of weapons beyond law enforcement, according to Baltimore City Health Commissioner Leana Wen.

"With these new resources, we will be better positioned to identify, prosecute and convict some of the individuals contributing to these tens of thousands of deaths a year", Sessions said in prepared remarks. "So let me say: We can not capitulate intellectually or morally unto this kind of rampant drug abuse".

"You have to have kind of a two-pronged approach". Sessions called the situation was "the worst drug crisis in our history", estimating that prescription opioid addiction was costing the national economy about $78 billion a year. More than 52,000 Americans died of overdoses in 2015 - a record - and experts believe the numbers have continued to rise.

The districts targeted in the pilot program include: 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.

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