Prescribers, Pharmacists Arrested in DEA Opioid Crackdown

Megan Brooks

April 04, 2018

The US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has arrested 28 prescribers and pharmacists and has revoked 147 licenses of individuals who handle controlled substances. The actions were taken as part of the agency's ongoing efforts to combat the opioid epidemic.

For 45 days in February and March, the DEA "surged its enforcement and administrative resources to identify and investigate prescribers and pharmacies that dispensed disproportionately large amounts of drugs. The ultimate goal of the surge was remediating or removing those whose actions perpetuate the controlled prescription drug crisis in America, particularly opioid drugs," the DEA said in a statement issued April 2.

During the 45-day period, special agents, diversion investigators, and intelligence research specialists analyzed 80 million transaction reports from DEA-registered manufacturers and distributors, as well as reports submitted on suspicious orders and drug thefts and information shared by federal partners, such as the Department of Health and Human Services.

This led to the development of 366 "leads" to DEA field offices, 188 of which (51%) resulted in active investigations by the DEA's 22 field divisions.

The culmination of those investigations was 28 arrests, 54 other enforcement actions, including the issuing of search warrants and administrative inspection warrants, and 283 administrative actions of other types, including conducting scheduled inspections; sending letters of admonition; issuing memoranda of agreement/understanding; requesting surrenders for cause of DEA registrations; issuing orders to show cause; and issuing immediate suspension orders (the immediate revocation of registrations).

"DEA will use every criminal, civil, and regulatory tool possible to target, prosecute and shut down individuals and organizations responsible for the illegal distribution of addictive and potentially deadly pharmaceutical controlled substances," Acting DEA Administrator Robert W. Patterson said in the statement.

"This surge effort has demonstrated an effective roadmap to proactively target illicit diversion of dangerous pharmaceuticals. DEA will continue to aggressively use this targeting playbook in continuing operations," said Patterson.

Targeting the Darknet

Also this week, the Department of Justice, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the US Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) announced results of a 4-day nationwide law enforcement operation, called Operation Disarray, which targeted vendors and buyers of opioids and cocaine on the Darknet.

During the March 27 to 30 operation, the FBI, the USPIS, and local law enforcement agents made eight arrests related to Operation Disarray. Agents conducted more than 160 interviews nationwide of people who had bought or sold opioids and other drugs online. Leads from the investigation identified 19 overdose deaths of "persons of interest."

The FBI, the USPIS and the Criminal Investigation Division of the Internal Revenue Service also executed numerous search warrants, which resulted in the seizure of weapons, drugs, counterfeit currency, and computer equipment.

The 4-day operation was the first coordinated action by the new Joint Criminal Opioid Darknet Enforcement (J-CODE) team. J-CODE is an initiative announced by Attorney General Jeff Sessions in January. It is aimed at targeting drug trafficking, especially fentanyl and other opioids, on the Darknet.

"Synthetic opioids are responsible for nearly one third of the unacceptable 64,000 drug overdoses in America in 2016," Sessions said in a news release.

"Some of the deadliest drugs can be purchased with a few clicks of a button and ordered online. J-CODE coordinates our efforts to stop online opioid sales, and it is already getting results. Today, we announce the first nationwide J-CODE operation, one that led to the arrest of alleged traffickers across America," said Sessions.

"Our work to combat drug trafficking has taken us from coast to coast and to the darkest corners of the Web. The opioid epidemic is a public health crisis, and those of us in law enforcement must be relentless in our efforts to disrupt this illicit activity," FBI Director Christopher Wray said in the release. "We thank our partners in this operation; through J-CODE, we will continue to work together to target the sale of opioids on the Darknet."

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