Remarks as Prepared for Delivery
115 Americans die each day of opioid–related overdoses. As the opioid epidemic continues to destroy lives and communities, we can and must do better.
Moments ago, I heard from a mom from Pinch, WV, named Stacie Archer. Stacie and her husband Wendall lost their son Joel to addiction at just 24 years old. Amazingly, they channeled their loss into hope for others -- creating a family connection center to better serve and support other families who have experienced similar pain. Stacie’s story is a vivid reminder that the tragedy of drug addiction is real and that we in law enforcement must not relent in our efforts to fight the drug crisis.
To that end, it is my privilege to stand here today with U.S. Attorneys Mike Stuart and Bill Powell from West Virginia, along with our partners from the FBI, HHS-OIG and the DEA, to discuss the latest chapter in our efforts to bring to justice those who needlessly pump opioids into our communities.
Today, we are announcing federal charges against 13 criminal defendants for offenses relating to the overprescription of controlled substances through “pill mill” networks across five Appalachian districts. These charges are the result of the fantastic efforts of the Criminal Division’s Appalachian Regional Prescription Opioid Task Force - ARPO - in close collaboration with the U.S. Attorneys Offices in West Virginia, Ohio, Tennessee and Virginia.
I want to remind everyone that, as in all indicted cases, these allegations are mere allegations, and the defendants in these cases are innocent until proven guilty.
Those charged today include 11 medical professionals – all of whom are charged with felony controlled substances violations, and all of whom are doctors. Together, these charges involve over 17 million opioid pills illegally prescribed and put on the street.
Among those defendants is a doctor who owned a Vienna, West Virginia-based Pain and Rehab Center. From May 2017 to May 2019, this doctor of 1,600 patients in a town of approximately 10,000 residents allegedly prescribed approximately 1.8 million units of schedule II controlled substances, including over 600 prescriptions for Fentanyl, one of the most powerful opioids. Some of those Fentanyl prescriptions went to a 35-year-old patient from Parkersburg, West Virginia, who fatally overdosed shortly after filling a prescription from this doctor.
The defendants also include another doctor from Hurricane, West Virginia, who, as alleged, received calls from patients on his cell phone and met them in a car at a gas station or convenience store parking lot. There, the doctor allegedly prescribed these patients oxycodone, hydrocodone and codeine – without performing any medical exam and without any legitimate medical reason.
Back in April of this year, when I announced the first ARPO takedown of 60 defendants, I made clear that the Department of Justice’s work was not yet finished. In the five months since that announcement, 11 defendants have been convicted by guilty plea. Today’s additional charges are proof positive that the Department will not rest until those that peddle opioids for profits are held to account. And these cases demonstrate, yet again, the power of our Strike Force model and its combination of data analytics and traditional investigative techniques to target the worst offenders.
To the doctors, pharmacists, and other medical professionals engaged in this egregious criminal behavior across Appalachia and across our country: 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 will find you and ensure that the American justice system treats you like the drug dealer you are.