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Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski Delivers Remarks at the Houston Opioid Takedown Press Conference


Houston, TX
United States

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery


Good afternoon, and thank you all for being here. 

America lost 68,500 lives to drug overdoses in 2018. 

Although that number is slightly lower than it was in 2017, each of those deaths stands as a stark reminder of the lives and families and communities ravaged by drug addiction.  I firmly believe that we can - and must - do better in the fight against drug abuse, including prescription opioid abuse. 

It is my privilege to stand shoulder-to-shoulder here today with U.S. Attorneys Ryan Patrick and John Bash to announce the latest chapter in our fight against those who unscrupulously pump this poison into our communities. 

The book is still being written, but make no mistake about it: the Department of Justice is going after the criminals who peddle opioids for profit, and we are going after them aggressively.

Thanks to the fantastic work of the Criminal Division’s Houston Health Care Fraud Strike Force, in collaboration with the U.S. Attorney’s Offices for the Southern and Eastern Districts of Texas and Massachusetts, today we are announcing federal charges against 41 criminal defendants.  

Our law enforcement partners have, as of this morning, executed 36 search warrants in connection with these cases, including at 15 pharmacies and six pill mills.  And as a complement to these criminal proceedings, the Drug Enforcement Administration has served immediate suspension orders on 9 registrants involved, including 7 pharmacies and 2 doctors.

I want to remind everyone, of course, that the conduct I will discuss are allegations and the defendants in these cases – as in every case – are innocent until proven guilty. 

Today’s defendants include 16 medical professionals – all of whom are charged with felony controlled substances violations, and whose ranks include 4 doctors.  

They include a Houston-area doctor who, in less than 15 months, allegedly prescribed approximately 2 million pills of controlled substances—including over 800,000 oxycodone pills and almost 450,000 hydrocodone pills.

They include another Houston-area doctor who, in less than 20 months, allegedly prescribed over 800,000 doses of oxycodone. 

They also include the owner and Pharmacist-in-Charge at a pill mill pharmacy that has, in 2019, allegedly dispensed the 2nd highest amount of oxycodone 30mg pills of all pharmacies in the entire State of Texas, and the 9th highest amount in the Nation.

Amazingly, 100% of the oxycodone dispended by this pharmacy – every single oxycodone pill that left the premises - was in the highest available dosage strength of that drug. 

Today’s charges in total involve over 23 million pills of oxycodone, hydrocodone, and carisoprodol - the equivalent of an opioid dose for every adult living in Texas.

And it includes pills that were illegally prescribed here in Houston but were diverted all the way across the country to the streets of Boston, Massachusetts.

This takedown is a testament to the enduring success of the Department of Justice’s Health Care Fraud Strike Force model. 

It demonstrates, yet again, the power of combining data analytics with the use of traditional investigative techniques to systematically move cases from investigation to indictment. 

And it proves the success of the Strike Force model—that working collaboratively among agencies and U.S. Attorney offices makes for stronger, more impactful cases.

Today’s takedown also builds off of the tremendous momentum generated by the Department’s most recent efforts in other parts of the U.S.

In the Appalachian Regional Prescription Opioid Takedown in April of this year, we charged 60 defendants across 11 federal districts.  In the National Health Care Fraud and Opioid Takedown in June of last year, we charged 600 defendants across 58 districts. 

And as today’s action makes clear, our work, particularly in regions with the greatest need, continues unabated.  Our prosecutors continue to use all the tools and data at our disposal to tackle head-on the hotspots where prescription drug overdoses are occurring.

I have a message for those doctors, pharmacists, and other medical professionals engaging in this criminal behavior across the state of Texas and elsewhere in America: you may think you are invisible.  But the data in our possession allows us to see you and see you clearly, no matter where you are.  And if you behave like a drug dealer, we are going to find you, and treat you like a drug dealer.   

In that regard and in addition to today’s law enforcement action, I also am pleased to announce the creation of a new Health Care Fraud Strike Force in the Rio Grande Valley and San Antonio, part of both the Southern and Western Districts of Texas. 

The Rio Grande Valley/San Antonio Strike Force will include 5 new prosecutors to laser-focus our efforts in Texas to prosecute dirty doctors, clinic owners, pharmacists, and drug dealers.  Ryan and John - I am very much looking forward to expanding our work together on behalf of the communities in your districts.    

The creation of the strike force sends a crystal clear message to those in the Rio Grande Valley and San Antonio who are prescribing, dispensing, or diverting opioids without legitimate medical purpose:  You will be held accountable for your roles in the deadliest drug crisis in this nation’s history.  The Department of Justice will identify you and prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law.

Updated August 28, 2019