Good morning. It is an honor to be here in Cincinnati. I am joined by members of the Criminal Division who serve with me in Washington, D.C., as well as several attorneys and legal staff from our Heath Care Fraud Unit, all of whom have dedicated their service to this region.
Today, I have the privilege of announcing the Department of Justice’s 2022 Opioid Enforcement Action, which highlights our latest efforts in responding to the nation’s opioid epidemic.
An epidemic that, in the last year alone, caused the tragic loss of life for more than 75,000 people in the United States due to overdose.
This staggering figure makes clear that opioid overdoses continue to claim the lives of far too many Americans. Each death serves as a harsh reminder of families mourning the unimaginable loss of their loved ones, and the communities ravaged by drug addiction.
The cases announced today include one such loss. As charged in the indictment of a Kentucky dentist, in August 2020, a patient allegedly died from the morphine prescriptions this dentist issued. The department seeks to hold accountable this dentist and the other defendants charged for allegedly unlawfully prescribing opioids — conduct that has helped fuel the opioid epidemic in this country.
Our 2022 Opioid Enforcement Action includes charges against 14 individuals, including 12 medical professionals, who have been charged across eight federal districts with crimes related to the unlawful distribution of prescription opioids.
Together, these individuals are allegedly responsible for issuing prescriptions for over 5.1 million opioid pills.
It is, of course, important to remember that these charges are allegations; the defendants are presumed innocent until they are found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
I’m making today’s announcement just over three years after the creation of the department’s Appalachian Regional Prescription Opioid (ARPO) Strike Force, a collaborative initiative that includes prosecutors from the Health Care Unit, prosecutors from our U.S. Attorneys’ Offices, and our federal, state, and local law enforcement partners. It is designed to swiftly and effectively prosecute medical professionals and others involved in the illegal prescription and distribution of opioids.
The ARPO Strike Force was created as part of the department’s solemn promise to employ every tool at our disposal to address the opioid crisis. That means getting out of Washington, D.C., and into the communities most affected. We continue to uphold that promise daily, working shoulder-to-shoulder with our U.S. Attorneys’ Offices and law enforcement partners throughout Ohio, Kentucky, Virginia, West Virginia, Tennessee, and Alabama.
Today, I’m speaking to you from the Southern District of Ohio, where I’m joined by my friend and colleague, U.S. Attorney Ken Parker, along with U.S. Attorney Will Thompson of the Southern District of West Virginia; U.S. Attorney Carlton Shier of the Eastern District of Kentucky; and U.S. Attorney Trey Hamilton of the Eastern District of Tennessee. We are also joined by our law enforcement partners Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services Christi Grimm; FBI Special Agent in Charge William Rivers; and DEA Assistant Administrator Kristi O’Malley. Together, over the last three years, we have made significant strides in holding medical professionals accountable for unlawfully prescribing opioids, conduct that has played a crucial and harmful role in the opioid epidemic.
To date, ARPO has charged over 100 individuals, over half of whom were prescribers, with crimes related to the unlawful distribution of prescription opioids. Together, these defendants are alleged to have issued prescriptions for over 100 million opioid pills. Our efforts have resulted in over 60 convictions.
Our work sends a clear message: medical professionals who violate their oath to do no harm, and instead, exploit vulnerable patients struggling with addiction will be held accountable. Those who peddle opioids for profit are not just committing crimes of greed. These are crimes that make this country’s opioid crisis even worse, often with deadly results.
Today, we take the opportunity to commemorate this historic collaboration, and the headway that has been made, all while recognizing that our work is far from done. The department’s response to the opioid epidemic remains nimble; we will continue to evolve and expand to address the needs of the people in the parts of the country where the epidemic has hit hardest. I stand ready to renew the promise made three years ago: the ARPO Strike Force and the Department of Justice will continue to stand with its partners to combat this epidemic, and to seek to prevent the next tragic loss of life.