Battling the ongoing opioid crisis is extremely difficult. The prescription drugs are highly addictive, and the newer wave of illegal synthetics are many times more addictive.
The results are devastating. A study by WVU released this week found that between 2015 and 2017, deaths from fentanyl were 122 percent higher than they were from 2005 to 2014 in West Virginia.
The drugs often flow into West Virginia through dealers from larger cities who are within a day’s drive of here. The dealer who sold fentanyl-laced heroin to addicts in Huntington in 2016, when over two dozen people overdosed, was from Akron, Ohio.
But sometimes the dealers are the very people who should be providing medical care, not creating addicts and then feeding their habits.
Wednesday, the U.S. Justice Department announced the single largest prescription opioid law enforcement operation in the country’s history, and the targets were men and women from the medical profession. The bust was carried out by the Appalachian Regional Prescription Opioid Strike Force.
The 60 individuals charged include 31 doctors, 7 pharmacists, 8 nurse practitioners and 7 other licensed medical professionals. They are accused of illegally prescribing and distributing opioids and other dangerous narcotics, and of health care fraud schemes.
The operation focused on five Appalachian states, including West Virginia. The doctors, pharmacists and nurses are accused of giving out about 350,000 prescriptions for more than 32 million pills.
Assistant Attorney General Brian Benczkowski said, “If so-called medical professionals are going to behave like drug dealers, we’re going to treat them like drug dealers.”
Two of the doctors charged are from West Virginia. Dr. Marc J. Spelar, a Huntington psychiatrist, is charged with 10 counts of unlawful distribution of over 17,000 opioid pills. An orthopedic surgeon from Morgantown, Dr. Chad Poage, is accused of writing fraudulent prescriptions for pain killers for his own use.
Here are some other examples of what the doctors and pharmacists are accused of doing:
—In Dayton, Ohio, a doctor and several pharmacists are charged with operating a pill mill that dispensed over 1,750,000 pain pills over a two-year period ending last October.
—A Kentucky doctor provided pre-signed blank prescriptions to his office staff who then prescribed controlled substances when he was out of the office.
—In Tennessee, a doctor who branded himself the “Rock Doc,” allegedly prescribed powerful and dangerous combinations of opioids, sometimes in exchange for sexual favors.
—Several doctors are accused of false billing for services to bump up payments from Medicare and Medicaid.
Notably, law enforcement did not go after all the individuals who got the pills. Instead, authorities have teamed up with the health departments in each of the five states to try to get the patients into treatment instead of arresting them and sending them to jail.
Benjamin Glassman, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio, said the hope is “when these facilities are taken down, there are resources in place to give the best possible chance for those victims to get proper treatment.”
Drug dealing is a dirty business, and it preys on people who have become chemically addicted. It’s bad enough when the violent cartels and street gangs are the distributors, but it’s even more troubling when the pushers come from the profession that is supposed to help reduce suffering, not cause more of it.