A sweeping crackdown on opioid and health care fraud in Texas resulted in the arrest of 58 people, including 16 medical professionals, who engaged in the illegal sale and distribution of millions of prescription opioid pills across the state, U.S. officials said.
The latest sweep demonstrates how the nation’s opioid epidemic continues to surge, too often fueled by corrupt doctors and pharmacists who prescribe and sell the potent prescription painkillers for profit. According to the U.S. Justice Department (DOJ), the schemes illegally distributed more than 6 million opioid pills through Texas for profit.
Six doctors and seven pharmacists were among those charged. The defendants include two doctors who allegedly were paid by the owners of three Dallas/Fort Worth-area pharmacies to refer unnecessary prescriptions for Worker’s Compensation claimants.
The defendants also include another pair of doctors who are charged with scheming to defraud TRICARE, a health care program for members and veterans of the armed forces and their families.
One case involved a Houston pharmacy that illegally dispensed more than 760,000 opioid and other pills between March 2018 and September 2019, Assistant Attorney General Brian Benczkowski said during a news briefing in Dallas.
Mr. Benczkowski said the pill mill used counterfeit prescription pads associated with doctors whose identities were stolen for that purpose. After writing bogus prescriptions oxycodone, hydrocodone, carisoprodol, and alprazolam (Xanax), runners would bring the drugs to the pharmacy where they were dispensed on a cash-only basis for about five times their market value.
“The scale of this crisis is enormous,” U.S. Attorney John Bash of the Western District of Texas said in public comments last week, according to Reuters.
The fraud schemes in Texas cost U.S. taxpayers and government health care programs about $224 million in false claims and $23 million in tax evasion, federal prosecutors said.
More than 115 Americans die every day of opioid-related overdoses. From 1999 to 2017, the opioid crisis in the U.S. has resulted in about 400,000 overdose deaths, more than half of which were caused by prescription painkillers.
The arrests in Texas come after OxyContin manufacturer Purdue Pharma filed for bankruptcy protection in mid-September. The company reached a tentative deal to settle more than 2,600 lawsuits brought by cities, counties, and states, alleging it was instrumental in driving the opioid crisis. Several states, however, have rejected the $10-$12 billion settlement, asserting it is too low considering the massive destruction and costs opioids have wrought on communities.
Most recently, the New Hampshire Attorney General’s office filed suit against four members of the Sackler family, the billionaire clan behind Purdue Pharma. The family has been accused of stashing about $1 billion of their personal wealth in offshore accounts.
Beasley Allen has an Opioid Litigation Team that includes these lawyers: Rhon Jones, Parker Miller, Ryan Kral, Rick Stratton, Will Sutton, Roger Smith and Jeff Price. This team represents the State of Alabama, the State of Georgia, and numerous local governments, as well as other entities in multidistrict litigation.