Forty-one individuals have been charged in nine indictments for their alleged involvement in and operation of a network of “pill mill” clinics and pharmacies, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) revealed in a news release on August 28.
According to the DOJ, those involved included medical providers, clinic owners and managers, pharmacists, pharmacy owners and managers, as well as drug dealers and traffickers.
Police estimate that medical staff diverted roughly 23 million oxycodone, hydrocodone, and carisoprodol pills, much of which ended up being sold on the street by drug dealers.
“Opioid abuse has a devastating and far reaching effect on our society,” said Special Agent in Charge Perrye K. Turner of the FBI’s Houston Field Office. “The doctors, nurses and pharmacists in this case allegedly misused their positions, violating the trust of the public they took an oath to serve.
“Together with their co-conspirators, these medical professionals released millions of highly addictive drugs onto the streets of our community. FBI Houston remains committed to working alongside our federal, state, and local partners to combat this epidemic and protect our neighborhoods.”
In total, federal law enforcement agents executed 36 search warrants on up to 15 “pill mill” pharmacies and six “pill mill” clinics, as well as other offices and residences, aimed at disrupting networks of opioid diversion, reports the DOJ.
Additionally, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) served seven immediate suspension orders on various pharmacies and suspended licensing for two providers involved in dispensing controlled substances without legitimate medical purpose.
The enforcement actions were led by the Health Care Fraud Unit of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section (HCF Unit), along with the U.S. Attorney’s Offices (USAOs), as well as the DEA and task force officers from greater Houston police departments and the FBI.
“This type of criminal activity is, in part, what is fueling the 68,500 overdose deaths per year across the United States,” said Special Agent in Charge Will R. Glaspy of the DEA’s Houston Division. “The DEA and our numerous law enforcement partners will not sit silently while drug dealers wearing lab coats conspire with street dealers to flood our communities with over 23 million dangerous and highly addictive pills.”
According to the DOJ, “The charges allege participating doctors, medical professionals and pharmacies knew the prescriptions had no legitimate medical purpose and were outside the usual course of professional practice. In some cases, “crew leaders” and “runners” allegedly filled or had the individuals who posed as patients fill the illegal prescriptions at Houston-area pharmacies.”
The DOJ explains that one owner and pharmacist operating a single “pill mill” allegedly dispensed the second highest quantity of oxycodone 30mg pills in the entire State of Texas in 2019, the ninth highest amount in the U.S. All oxycodone dispensed was prescribed, or otherwise sent out, at the high available dosage strength.
The indictments also allege that drug dealers and traffickers then “allegedly diverted and distributed the controlled substances to the streets, with some pills trafficked from Houston to Boston.”
“By and large, these clinics are all about money and not the patient,” said U.S. Attorney Patrick. “If it was about the patient, no legitimate doctor would write, and no legitimate pharmacy would fill, these massive amounts and combinations of controlled substances. Pill mills are magnets for crime and should be eradicated.”
“I am happy and willing to partner with any agency or police department in shutting down and prosecuting these places,” he continued.
“I am also eager to expand our work into healthcare fraud in the Rio Grande Valley. These grifters are wasting tax payer money and making healthcare more expensive for everyone else.”
Since yesterday’s indictments, Assistant Attorney General Benczkowski, and U.S. Attorneys Ryan K. Patrick and John F. Bash, have announced that the HCF Strike Force will be undergoing and expansion into the Rio Grande Valley and San Antonio, making it the 24th district with a large presence in order to tackle drug trafficking.
“Today’s action shows that the Department of Justice continues to relentlessly pursue criminals, including medical professionals, who peddle opioids for profit,” said Benczkowski. “Our use of data analytics means that no one engaging in this criminal behavior is invisible. And if you behave like a drug dealer, we are going to find you and treat you like a drug dealer.”
“I am excited to team with Assistant Attorney General Benczkowski and U.S. Attorney Patrick to fight healthcare fraud in San Antonio and the Rio Grande Valley,” said U.S. Attorney Bash. “Fraud in the healthcare system not only rips off innocent victims and taxpayers, but it also quite often endangers the health of patients – as with the illegal distribution of addictive opioids. For that reason, it’s a major priority for all of us.”