They engaged in drug trafficking, with people pretending to be patients to fill fake prescriptions, which they bought for hundreds of dollars from complicit pharmacies and then gave to drug dealers to sell for far more than its market value.
41 people have been arrested in the United States and charged in a series of 9 indictments for allegedly playing varying roles in the diversion of 21 million of some of the most powerful painkillers Oxycodone and Hydrocodone, as well as the muscle-relaxer Carisoprodol.
Termed as pill mill, authorities say the scheme saw the participation of clinics, pharmacies, nurses, doctors, drug dealers as well as owners in the distribution of millions of pills. According to reports from the Department of Justice (DOJ), these people engaged in drug trafficking, with people pretending to be patients to fill fake prescriptions, which they bought for hundreds of dollars from complicit pharmacies and then gave to drug dealers to sell for far more than its market value.
These dealers diverted these medications, from the state of Houston to Boston and other places - essentially taking them away from people in pain who are in actual medical need of it, and perpetuating a dependency on a highly addictive opioid unfit for unprescribed use.
According to FBI Special Agent in Charge Perrye K. Turner of the Houston Field Office:
Together with their co-conspirators, these medical professionals released millions of highly addictive drugs onto the streets of our community. FBI Houston remains committed to working alongside our federal, state and local partners to combat this epidemic and protect our neighbourhoods.
The sentiment was shared by DEA Special Agent in Charge Will R. Glaspy (Houston Division) who said
This type of criminal activity is, in part, what is fueling the 68,500 overdose deaths per year across the United States. The DEA and our numerous law enforcement partners will not sit silently while drug dealers wearing lab coats conspire with street dealers to flood our communities with over 23 million dangerous and highly addictive pills.
Making reference to the role clinics and pharmacies had to play in the pill mill, Patrick (Southern District of Texas) SDTX said
By and large, these clinics are all about money and not the patient. If it was about the patient, no legitimate doctor would write, and no legitimate pharmacy would fill, these massive amounts and combinations of controlled substances. Pill mills are magnets for crime and should be eradicated.
He added he was ready and willing to partner with law enforcement & related agencies to identify and prosecute those committing healthcare fraud, wasting tax-payer money and making health-care expensive for everyone.
In addition to the arrests made, federal enforcement agents and DEA also executed 36 search warrants for offices and residences, including 6 pill mill clinics and 15 pharmacies and immediate suspension orders on 7 pharmacies and two providers responsible for dispensing controlled substances without legal medical reason.
In one case that has since raised many eyebrows, one Houston pharmacy involved in the scheme is alleged to have dispensed the second highest amount of oxycodone in the state of Texas in the highest available dosages, which also ranked the ninth most amount in the country.
Assistant Attorney General, Brian A. Benczkowski cautioned criminals involved in these schemes saying
Our use of data analytics means no one engaging in this criminal behaviour is invisible. And if you behave like a drug dealer , we are going to find you and treat you like a drug dealer.
This operation was facilitated by an investigation by the Health Care Fraud Unit of the Criminal Division which was set up along with U.S Attorney’s Offices in East and South Texas, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Task Force officers from Houston Police Departments and the FBI to throw a wrench in the works of a suspected drug diversion distribution chain.
The Fraud section heads the Medicare Fraud Strike Force (MFSF), which has since its inception found and charged about 4,000 defendants responsible for costing the Medicare program more than $14 billion USD since March 2007. The MFSF is a collaborative body born from the Department of Justice and the (HHS) Health and Human Services, with centers that are taking measures to fish out fraudulent providers and increase accountability in the Health and medical care and Aid sectors.