SEP 19 (EL PASO, Texas) - Thirty-three individuals have been arrested in El Paso for prescription fraud-related offenses, announced Special Agent in Charge Joseph M. Arabit of the Drug Enforcement Administration's (DEA) El Paso Field Division, Regional Commander Carey Matthews of the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) and 34th Judicial District Attorney (DA) Jaime Esparza.
Thirty-three individuals were arrested beginning Monday evening, during a multi-agency law enforcement operation led by DPS and DEA in conjunction with the DA's Office. The defendants are accused of fraudulently obtaining hydrocodone, oxycodone and alprazolam by calling in fraudulent prescriptions, utilizing stolen prescriptions, altering prescriptions and/or "doctor shopping."
Hydrocodone and oxycodone are opioid narcotic pain relievers that are medically prescribed to treat moderate to severe pain and can be habit-forming if misused. There is a strong link between abuse of these drugs and heroin addiction because some users switch to heroin to achieve the same opioid high at a lower cost. Alprazolam is a central nervous depressant that is commonly prescribed to treat anxiety; however, abuse can lead to physical dependence.
These charges and arrests are the result of multiple investigations targeting individuals, as well as several prescription fraud rings. In total, the investigations involved over 300 prescriptions and 32,000 dosage units of controlled substances.
"The abuse of prescription drugs, such as oxycodone and hydrocodone, is our nation's fastest growing drug problem. All too often, this abuse leads to addiction, shattered lives, and even death. In the interest of public safety, DEA and its law enforcement partners will continue to target those who obtain and distribute these potentially dangerous drugs through fraudulent prescriptions."
"Prescription drug trafficking and fraud have a grievous effect on the safety of our communities and the well-being of Texans," said DPS Regional Commander Carey Matthews, Region 4. "With the continued coordination between our local, state and federal law enforcement partners, we will continue to combat the individuals who commit these crimes." "These arrests are part of our continuing effort to pursue cases involving prescription drug fraud," stated Jaime Esparza, 34th Judicial District Attorney's Office.
The state offenses with which the defendants are charged include Engaging in Organized Criminal Activity (EOC), in violation Section 71.02 of the Texas Penal Code, and Prescription Fraud, in violation of Section 481.129 of the Texas Controlled Substances Act. The defendants charged with EOC, a second-degree felony, face a maximum penalty of twenty years in prison if convicted. The prescription fraud offenses faced by defendants are second-degree felonies punishable by up to twenty years in prison and third-degree felonies punishable by up to ten years in prison.
The defendants had their initial appearances before a magistrate yesterday. The cases are being prosecuted by Assistant District Attorneys of the 34th Judicial DA's Office. The following law enforcement agencies participated in yesterday's enforcement operation: DEA, DPS and their Criminal Intelligence Division, United States Border Patrol, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Homeland Security Investigations-ICE, United States Marshals Service, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, United States Army Criminal Investigation Command (CID), El Paso Police Department, El Paso County Sheriff Office and the Anthony Police Department.
Charges in indictments and criminal complaints are only accusations. All criminal defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
The DEA El Paso Division encourages parents, and their children to visit the following interactive websites at www.justthinktwice.com, www.GetSmartAboutDrugs.com and www.dea.gov.