There is a new force in the fight against opioid addiction in the Appalachian Region.
Assistant U.S. Attorney General Brian A Benczkowski announced the formation of the Appalachian Regional Opioid Strike Force, a joint law enforcement effort targeting health care fraud schemes.
Officials with the U.S. Attorney Office for the Eastern District of Kentucky announced that the ARPO Strike Force will bring together resources and expertise of the Health Care Fraud Unit in the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section Unit, the U.S. Attorney’s Offices for nine federal districts in Kentucky, Ohio, West Virginia, Tennessee and Alabama, and federal law enforcement such as the FBI, DEA and Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General.
The strike force will seek to investigate and prosecutor medical professionals and others involved in illegally prescribing and distributing opioids.
“While the opioid epidemic continues to inflict untold pain and suffering on people across the country, the devastation in the Appalachian region and adjacent areas had been particularly staggering,” Benczkowski stated. “It is all the more reprehensible when unscrupulous physicians and pharmacies contribute to the epidemic by illegally supplying dangerous prescription painkillers.”
Secretary Alex M. Azar III noted the success of the Strike Force model while announcing the largest ever health care fraud enforcement action involving 601 charged defendants across 58 federal districts, including 165 doctors, nurses and other licensed medical professionals, for their alleged participation in health care fraud schemes involving more than $2 billion in false billings. Of those charged, 162 defendants, including 76 doctors, were charged for their roles in prescribing and distributing opioids and other dangerous narcotics.
Federal charges were filed against pharmacist Kim Jones, owner of Kim’s Hometown Pharmacy in Williamsburg, in June charging her with 26 counts of unlawful distribution of a controlled substance identified as opioids Oxycodone or Oxymorphone.
Allen Love, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Kentucky, said while the ARPO Strike Force had not yet been activated when the investigation was ongoing and subsequent indictment was handed down in June.
“Those are the types of cases the strike force would investigated,” Love explained.