DEA arrests doctors in largest-ever crackdown on illegal Rx drugs

Physicians, pharmacists, and others apprehended as part of 'Operation Pilluted'

Nearly 300 people—including 22 physicians and pharmacists—were arrested last week on state and federal criminal charges alleging illegal trafficking of prescription drugs as part of the Drug Enforcement Administration's (DEA) largest-ever investigation into the issue.

The results of the crackdown, called "Operation Pilluted," were announced by DEA last week. The investigation took place over 15 months in Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi.

The arrests come amid increased attention on prescription drug misuse in recent years. According to CDC, about 44,000 U.S. residents in 2013 died from accidental drug overdoses, about half of which involved prescription drugs and more than 16,000 of which involved painkillers.

Where Rx addicts get their drugs

Details of operation

According to DEA officials, the investigation targeted physicians, pharmacists, street-level dealers, and other individuals selling and distributing prescription medications, including:

  • Hydrocodone;
  • Oxycodone; and
  • Xanax.

DEA Agent Keith Brown of the agency's New Orleans division says investigators targeted certain physicians using information from local pharmacists and from the four states' online prescription drug monitoring programs.

The doctors that prescribe the most painkillers

Brown says that the investigation involved undercover agents and that some physicians were observed "coaxing patients into saying their pain is worse than it is, so they [could] write it on the chart."

As part of the effort, 24 physicians, pharmacies, and others gave up their DEA registration numbers, meaning they are no longer able to prescribe or dispense controlled substances. DEA is also seeking to revoke individuals' or entities' prescribing power in at least two dozen other cases.

Brown said that information acquired during the investigation could lead to more arrests.

'This is profiting from misery'

Brown says, "There are those who will say" DEA is "targeting the medical community" or "pain management," but that is not the case.

Rather, he says that prescription painkillers "have an incredibl[y] important place in our society," explaining that the agency is cracking down on "drug dealers" who are "profiting from misery" (Sources: Berkrot, Reuters, 5/20; Schwarz, New York Times, 5/20; AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 5/20).

The takeaway: The Drug Enforcement Administration has arrested close to 300 physicians, pharmacists, street-level drug dealers, and others in its largest-ever crackdown on the illegal trafficking of prescription drugs.

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