The U.S. Attorneys’ Offices for three federal districts, the Health Care Fraud Unit in the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section, and law enforcement partners at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services have joined forces to form the New England Prescription Opioid (NEPO) Strike Force.
This announcement was made today by Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite, Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division.
The NEPO Strike Force’s goals are to locate and look into health care fraud schemes in the New England area, as well as to successfully and swiftly punish those responsible for the illegal distribution of prescription opioids and other prohibited narcotics.
The NEPO Strike Force will primarily focus on criminal activity committed by doctors, pharmacists, and other medical professionals, with a particular emphasis on health care fraud and drug diversion violations, where applicable depending on the facts of the particular case.
Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite, Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division remarked, “This NEPO Strike Force expands and sharpens the Justice Department’s response to the country’s opioid epidemic.”
“Overdose deaths caused more than 75,000 fatalities in the United States in the previous year.
New England has seen some of the worst increases in the death rate from drug overdoses since 2018.
The NEPO Strike Force will assist in addressing the illegal prescription and diversion of opioids, one of the epidemic’s main causes.
We will carry out the department’s solemn commitment to mobilize vital resources to confront the opioid problem by working with our partners.
U.S. Attorney Nikolas P. Kerest for the District of Vermont, U.S. Attorney Jane E. Young for the District of New Hampshire, U.S. Attorney Darcie N. McElwee for the District of Maine, Assistant Administrator Kristi N. O’Malley of the DEA Diversion Control Division, and Acting Deputy Assistant Director A. Christian J. Schrank all participated in the announcement in Concord, New Hampshire.
According to U.S. Attorney Jane E. Young for the District of New Hampshire, “the creation of NEPO creates a tremendous opportunity for our three Northern New England states to disrupt the unlawful prescription and distribution of opioids.”
As a state, New Hampshire is thankful to the Department of Justice for including us in this effort and is thrilled that it will be housed here.
The number of people dying from opioid overdoses in Maine has increased dramatically, and law enforcement has designated the opioid crisis as the most pressing problem facing officers, according to U.S. Attorney Darcie N. McElwee for the District of Maine.
“While the trafficking of illegal drugs, particularly fentanyl, is well-known, pharmaceutical opioids account for 23% of overdose deaths in Maine.
Many people who died from using drugs that were later classified as illegal had likely first tried pharmaceuticals, either their own or those of a friend or family member.
The resources provided by this strike force will be crucial in the fight against the pandemic, and together with our allies, we will go after any medical professionals who abuse their authority to risk lives by overprescribing opioids for their own financial benefit.
U.S. Attorney Nikolas P. Kerest for the District of Vermont said, “The announcement of the New England Prescription Opioid Strike Force demonstrates the Department of Justice’s commitment to working with our law enforcement partners in Vermont and elsewhere to hold accountable health care providers who exploit the opioid epidemic for personal gain.”
Patients are put at danger of overdose and physical injury when healthcare professionals write unlawful opioid prescriptions, according to the CDC.
Inspector General Christi A. Grimm of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services stated, “HHS-OIG is resolute in its determination to hold responsible clinicians who illegally prescribe opioids for personal gain while ignoring the safety and wellness of their patients.
In a joint effort to aid communities affected by the opioid epidemic, the New England Prescription Opioid Strike Force is supported by our law enforcement partners, and HHS-OIG is happy to do the same.
According to DEA Administrator Anne Milgram, “it has never been more important to make sure doctors and health care professionals are giving the safety and health of their patients a priority at a time when the United States is losing tens of thousands of Americans to opioid overdoses every year.”
“The establishment of the New England Prescription Opioid Strike Force strengthens our crucial partnership with partners in the area to hold accountable any practitioner who distributes opioid medications carelessly,” the statement reads.
According to Assistant Director Luis Quesada of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division, “the creation of the New England Prescription Opioid Strike Force provides the FBI and our law enforcement partners with important collective resources to combat health care fraud and drug diversion schemes within the region.”
The FBI will relentlessly pursue those responsible for the illegal distribution of prescription opioids and other controlled substances and will not stand for medical professionals who are willing to put patients’ health at risk for their own financial gain.
Prosecutors and data analysts from the Fraud Section’s Health Care Fraud Unit, attorneys from the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices in New Hampshire, Maine, and Vermont, and special agents from the HHS-OIG, DEA, and FBI will collaborate to operate the NEPO Strike Force.
It will support the three districts that make up the NEPO Strike Force region while operating out of the Concord, New Hampshire, region.
The State Medicaid Fraud Control Units and other federal and state law enforcement organizations will also collaborate closely with the NEPO Strike Force.
The Health Care Fraud Unit’s Appalachian Regional Prescription Opioid (ARPO) Strike Force has a proven track record of effectiveness, and this announcement of the NEPO Strike Force expands on that.
Since its founding in late 2018, ARPO has collaborated with federal, state, and local law enforcement organizations as well as U.S. Attorneys’ Offices in Alabama, Kentucky, Ohio, Virginia, Tennessee, and West Virginia to bring criminal charges against doctors and other individuals involved in the unauthorized prescription and distribution of opioids.
In total, 111 defendants have been accused by ARPO over the last three years for writing more than 115 million prescriptions for restricted drug pills. More than 60 ARPO defendants have received convictions thus far.