Attorney General Jeff Sessionsannounced the charges amid what he called "the deadliest drug crisis in our history", with close to 60,000 people killed by overdoses past year. "The charges also 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 particular focus" for the departments. The charges aggressively target schemes billing Medicare, Medicaid, and TRICARE for medically unnecessary prescription drugs and compounded medications that frequently were never even purchased and/or distributed to beneficiaries.
A total of 412 people, who were suspected of defrauding $1.3 billion with false healthcare billings, have been charged, the Department of Justice (DOJ) said.
"Too many trusted medical professionals like doctors, nurses, and pharmacists have chosen to violate their oaths and put greed ahead of their patients", said Sessions. "Amazingly, some have made their practices into multimillion-dollar criminal enterprises".
"They seem oblivious to the disastrous consequences of their greed", the attorney general said. "Just one doctor at this clinic allegedly gave out 12,000 opioid prescriptions for over 2 million illegal painkiller doses".
One scheme documented in South Florida allegedly paid kickbacks like drugs, gift cards, plane tickets and trips to casinos and strip clubs. Last year, overdose deaths surged at least 19% to more than 59,000, according to preliminary estimates.
Several defendants have also been accused of exploiting the opioid epidemic by creating shoddy drug rehabilitation centers that did not help addicts all while collection federal health insurance reimbursements. The Justice Department fined drug manufacturer Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals $35m for supplying and not reporting suspiciously massive orders of its highly addictive oxycodone in the 2000s.
McCabe described standing-room-only waiting rooms where patients lined up for prescriptions and doctors writing them for addicts and drug dealers in exchange for $250 to $300 in cash.
Keith Fricke, principle consultant at tw-Security, says despite the pattern of escalating healthcare fraud enforcement actions annually, "I don't think the feds are trying to break any records; rather, they are trying to enforce laws and seeing that criminals serve time for crimes committed". "Unfortunately, this is likely tied to the opioid crisis", she told a Senate committee. Roughly a third of the defendants have been accused of committing Medicare and Medicaid fraud related to opioids, contributing the the largest overdose epidemic in USA history.