United States Attorney J. Douglas Overbey Supports the Priorities and Initiatives of the Department of Justice in the Fight Against Opioid Abuse and Addiction Resulting in Multiple Overdose Deaths
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced today the creation of a new effort, the Department of Justice Prescription Interdiction & Litigation (PIL) Task Force, to fight the prescription opioid crisis. The PIL Task Force will aggressively deploy and coordinate all available criminal and civil law enforcement tools to reverse the tide of opioid overdoses in the United States, with a particular focus on opioid manufacturers and distributors.
The PIL Task Force will include senior officials from the offices of the Attorney General, the Deputy Attorney General, and the Associate Attorney General, as well as senior officials from the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys, the Civil Division, the Criminal Division, and the Drug Enforcement Administration. The Task Force will coordinate the Department’s many efforts and tools to combat the opioid epidemic.
“Over the past year, the Department has vigorously fought the prescription opioid crisis, and we are determined to continue making progress. Today, we are opening a new front in the war on the opioid crisis by bringing all of our anti-opioid efforts under one banner,” said Attorney General Sessions. “We have no time to waste. Every day, 180 Americans die from drug overdoses. This epidemic actually lowered American life expectancy in 2015 and 2016 for the first time in decades, with drug overdose now the leading cause of death for Americans under age 50. These are not acceptable trends and this new task force will make us more effective in reversing them and saving Americans from the scourge of opioid addiction.”
“The nation is currently facing the deadliest drug crisis in American history. Unfortunately, east Tennessee is not immune to this problem. In fact, statistics show that Tennessee is a ‘hot spot’ for drug abuse and overdose related deaths in the country,” said U.S. Attorney J. Douglas Overbey. “In addition to working with our other task forces comprised of our local, state and federal law enforcement partners, the U.S. Attorney’s office will work with the PIL Task Force to use all criminal and civil remedies available under federal law to combat this growing crisis. This includes holding drug manufacturers, distributors such as pharmacies, pain management clinics, drug testing facilities, and individual physicians accountable for their unlawful actions,” added U.S. Attorney Overbey.
The new PIL Task Force will build on a number of other new initiatives begun by Attorney General Sessions over the past year that will help end the drug crisis. The Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit, a new data analytics program to help find evidence of overprescribing and opioid-related health care fraud, was created in August 2017. The Attorney General assigned 12 experienced Assistant U.S. Attorneys to opioid “hot-spots” to focus solely on investigating and prosecuting opioid-related health care fraud.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Tennessee was one of 12, out of 94 districts across the country, chosen to participate in this program. The district received funding for an Assistant U.S Attorney, for a three-year term, to focus solely on investigating and prosecuting healthcare fraud related to prescription opioids, including pill mill schemes and pharmacies that unlawfully divert or dispense prescription opioids for illegitimate purposes. The 12 districts selected represented areas with a significant prescription opioid problem, where the Department can effectively investigate and prosecute the medical providers that are contributing to this epidemic by unlawfully diverting or dispensing opioids outside the scope of professional practice and not for a legitimate medical purpose.
Assistant U.S. Attorney David P. Lewen, Jr., was selected to fill this position for the Eastern District of Tennessee. Working with the FBI, DEA and HHS, as well as our state and local law enforcement partners, Assistant U.S. Attorney Lewen will lead the district in the investigation and prosecution of opioid-related healthcare fraud cases involving doctors, pharmacies and medical providers who are furthering this epidemic in east Tennessee.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Lewen has served as a federal prosecutor in east Tennessee for nearly 10 years. Prior to that time, he served on active duty for five years in the U.S. Army JAG Corps, serving in Korea, Hawaii, and Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Assistant U.S. Attorney Lewen has experience in prosecuting a wide range of federal crimes, including large-scale drug trafficking and money laundering organizations, violent crimes, public corruption, and complex white-collar and corporate fraud crimes. Two of the higher profile defendants Lewen has prosecuted in U.S. District Court include former Knox County Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner and bank extortionist Michael Benanti.
In November 2017, Attorney General Sessions ordered all U.S. Attorney’s Offices to designate an opioid coordinator to be responsible for facilitating intake of cases involving prescription opioids, heroin, and fentanyl; convening a task force of federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement to identify opioid cases for federal prosecution, facilitate interdiction efforts, and tailor their district’s response to the needs of the community it serves; providing legal advice and training to Assistant U.S. Attorneys regarding the prosecution of opioid offenses; maintaining statistics on the opioid prosecutions in the district; and developing and continually evaluating the effectiveness of the office’s strategy to combat the opioid epidemic. Assistant U.S. Attorney Tracy Stone was chosen to fill this position for the Eastern District of Tennessee.
Prior to joining the U.S. Attorney’s Office in 2006, Assistant U.S. Attorney Stone prosecuted state felony cases as an Assistant District Attorney in Tennessee’s Fourth Judicial District. For the first few years with the office, he was assigned to the Violent Crime Unit, investigating and prosecuting violent offenses such as carjackings, interstate kidnappings, bank robberies, Hobbs Act robberies, and firearms offenses.
As a veteran prosecutor currently assigned to the Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force, Assistant U.S. Attorney Stone investigates and prosecutes drug trafficking organizations and other criminal enterprises operating within the Eastern District of Tennessee and elsewhere. The bulk of his caseload is devoted to combatting pill mills and the opioid scourge ravaging people, families, and communities within the Eastern District of Tennessee.
In conjunction with the announcement of the PIL Task Force, the Department also announced today that it would be filing a Statement of Interest in a multi-district action regarding hundreds of lawsuits against opioid manufacturers and distributors.
The plaintiffs include numerous cities, municipalities, and medical institutions that have borne the costs of the prescription opioid crisis. The plaintiffs seek to recover the costs associated with providing treatment and public safety measures relating to the opioid epidemic from those who allegedly used false, deceptive, or unfair marketing practices for prescription opioid drugs.
The Department will primarily argue that the federal government—through various federal health programs and law enforcement efforts—has borne substantial costs from the opioid epidemic and seeks reimbursement.
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