DOJ Takes Down 'Pill Mill' Network for Millions of Opioid RXs

Megan Brooks

September 03, 2019

The US Department of Justice (DOJ) has charged 41 people in nine indictments for their alleged involvement in a network of "pill mills" that allegedly resulted in the diversion of roughly 23 million oxycodone, hydrocodone, and carisoprodol pills.

Those charged include medical providers, clinic owners and managers, pharmacists, and pharmacy owners and managers, as well as drug dealers and traffickers.

The DOJ "continues to relentlessly pursue criminals, including medical professionals, who peddle opioids for profit," Assistant Attorney General Brian Benczkowski, from the DOJ's Criminal Division, said in a statement.

"This type of criminal activity is, in part, what is fueling the 68,500 overdose deaths per year across the United States," Will Glaspy, special agent in charge of the Houston Division of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), said in the statement.

"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," Glaspy said.

Indictments in Texas and Massachusetts

The latest federal opioid enforcement actions were led by the Health Care Fraud Unit (HCF Unit) in the DOJ's Criminal Division Fraud Section in conjunction with US Attorney's Offices for the Southern and Eastern Districts of Texas and District of Massachusetts as well as the DEA and task force officers from greater Houston police departments and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The charges allege that participating doctors, medical professionals, and pharmacies knew the prescriptions had no legitimate medical purpose and were outside the usual course of professional practice, the DOJ said. 

"They include a Houston-area doctor who, in less than 15 months, allegedly prescribed approximately 2 million pills of controlled substances — including over 800,000 oxycodone pills and almost 450,000 hydrocodone pills," Benczkowski said August 28 during a Houston press conference.

"They also include the owner and pharmacist-in-charge at a pill mill pharmacy that has, in 2019, allegedly dispensed the second highest amount of oxycodone 30-mg pills of all pharmacies in the entire State of Texas, and the ninth highest amount in the nation. Amazingly, 100% of the oxycodone dispensed by this pharmacy — every single oxycodone pill that left the premises — was in the highest available dosage strength of that drug," Benczkowski said.

The DOJ also announced that 350 law enforcement agents executed 36 search and seizure warrants in the Southern District of Texas, including 15 pharmacies and six "pill mill" clinics as well as other offices and residences, aimed at disrupting opioid diversion networks. And the DEA issued immediate suspension orders to nine DEA registrants, including seven pharmacies and two doctors, involved in dispensing controlled substances without legitimate medical purpose. 

Benczkowski said he has a "message for those doctors, pharmacists, and other medical professionals engaging in this criminal behavior across the state of Texas and elsewhere in America: you may think you are invisible. But the data in our possession allows us to see you and see you clearly, no matter where you are. And if you behave like a drug dealer, we are going to find you, and treat you like a drug dealer."

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