WASHINGTON (CN) – In what Attorney General Jeff Sessions called the biggest health care fraud enforcement action in U.S. history, the Justice Department said Thursday that it charged 601 people in dozens of cases involving opioid prescriptions.
The sprawling prosecution across 58 federal districts involves health care fraud schemes that led to more than $2 billion in fake billings, according to the Justice Department.
Prosecutors have also charged 76 doctors, 23 pharmacists and 19 nurses with unlawfully prescribing opioids and other dangerous drugs that have contributed to the country’s opioid epidemic.
Authorities set their sights on health care professionals accused of overprescribing opioids, which claims the lives of 115 Americans every day, according to the government.
The opioid cases led to charges against 162 defendants and were among several other nationwide enforcement actions involving fraudulent billing of Medicare, Medicaid and the veteran health insurance program Tricare.
Sessions said the doctors, nurses, and pharmacists who were charged targeted people who were suffering from drug addiction to “line their pockets,” calling their alleged crimes “despicable.”
He announced the charges at a joint press conference with Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and other officials on Thursday.
“Much of this fraud is related to our ongoing opioid crisis—which is the deadliest drug epidemic in American history. Some of our most trusted medical professionals look at their patients—vulnerable people suffering from addiction—and they see dollar signs,” Sessions said in prepared remarks.
Sessions said that since President Donald Trump took office in January 2017, the Justice Department has charged close to 200 doctors and other health care professional for illegally prescribing opioids. He noted that 16 of those doctors had prescribed more than 20.3 million pills.
In the fiscal year 2017, prosecutors had indicted more than 6,500 defendants for opioid-related crimes and seized $150 million, according to Sessions.
In one scheme in Florida, prosecutors charged 124 defendants for their alleged roles involving $337 million in false billings. In that case, a single sober living facility is accused of submitting more than $106 million in false claims for substance abuse treatment services.
Another case involving 33 defendants charged in California alleges they defrauded $660 million from insurance programs.
In the Southern District of Texas, 48 people – including a pharmacy chain owner, managing partner and lead pharmacist – were charged with using fraudulent prescriptions to fill bulk orders for more than 1 million hydrocodone and oxycodone pills even there was no medical purpose for the prescriptions.
Last year, the Justice Department announced that it had charged more that 400 defendants, including 56 doctors, as part of alleged schemes tied to $1.3 billion in health care fraud.