New DOJ unit cracking down on ‘pill mill’ doctors

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The Justice Department is targeting fraudulent doctors more efficiently than ever, as the new Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit takes aim. Armed with a broader array of prescription drug databases, Medicaid and Medicare figures, coroners’ records and other numbers, federal authorities are cracking down on “pill mills” that deal in prescription drugs.

The Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit draws authorities in 12 regions across the country together. They are noting “which doctors are prescribing the most, how far patients will travel to see them and whether any have died within 60 days of receiving one of their prescriptions, among other information,” according to the Associated Press.

The AP reports: “Authorities have been going after so-called ‘pill mills’ for years, but the new approach brings additional federal resources to bear against the escalating epidemic. Where prosecutors would spend months or longer building a case by relying on erratic informants and only limited data, the number-crunching by analysts in Washington provides information they say lets them quickly zero in on a region’s top opioid prescribers.”

As DML News reported in October, a federal grand jury in handed down the Unit’s first indictment against physician Andrzej Kazimierz Zielke, 62, in Pittsburgh. He was indicted on charges of conspiracy and unlawfully distributing controlled substances. Zielke owned and operated a holistic pain management practice called Medical Frontiers, and authorities say he was writing a large number of Oxycodone prescriptions, with some of the pills being obtained by a narcotics dealer.

Under their new program of data collection, nabbing suspected abusers like Zielke is easier.

“This data shines a light we’ve never had before,” said Robert Cessar, a longtime federal prosecutor. “We don’t need to have confidential informants on the street to start a case. Now, we have someone behind a computer screen who is helping us. That has to put (doctors) on notice that we have new tools.”

According to the AP, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said the Justice Department will consider going after any law-breaker, even a pharmaceutical company, to reduce the number of unwarranted prescriptions affecting U.S. citizens, as Attorney General Jeff Sessions and President Donald J. Trump continue their war on opioid addiction and related deaths.

The AP reports, “Authorities acknowledge there are legitimate reasons for some doctors to prescribe large quantities of opioids, and high prescribing alone doesn’t necessarily trigger extra scrutiny. What raises red flags for investigators are the dentists, psychiatrists and gynecologists who are prescribing at surprisingly high rates.

“The effort operates on the long-held perception that drug addiction often starts with prescriptions from doctors and leads to abuse of more dangerous black market drugs like fentanyl, which, for the first time last year, contributed to more overdose deaths than any other legal or illegal drug, surpassing pain pills and heroin.”

 

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