Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a coordinated and unprecedented effort to combat the scourge of prescription opioid abuse in America. By cracking down on the supply side, federal law enforcement hopes to reduce overdose deaths and the crime and family strife associated with painkiller addiction.
But any War on Drugs always catches innocent people in the dragnet. Doctors, pharmacists, clinic managers, pharmaceutical company reps and anyone who handles their finances or billing might find themselves under investigation, under arrest or indicted by a federal grand jury.
Government cracking down on prescription drug trade
The PIL (Prescription Interdiction & Litigation) Task Force was spearheaded by the Department of Justice. It will involve both the criminal and civil divisions of the Office of the Attorney General and U.S. Attorney offices around the country. Those prosecutors will coordinate with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Department of Health and Human Services and other agencies to investigate prescription fraud, disrupt opioid distribution and even aid civil litigation against pharmaceutical companies.
The program will target the full spectrum of opioids (heroin, codeine, fentanyl, oxycodone, hydrocodone, etc.), which are highly addictive and have triggered tens of thousands of fatal overdoses. The task force intends to fully leverage existing laws and prior initiatives, including the Controlled Substances Act, the False Claims Act and the Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit.
Who should be worried?
The multi-pronged crackdown will target a wide range of individuals and entities:
- Doctors who overprescribe painkillers
- Pain management clinics
- Pharmacists selling pills “out the back door”
- Online “pill mills” that sell opioids over the internet
- Thieves and family members selling pills on the black market
- Addicts who become dealers
- Addicts who obtain painkillers through fraud or burglary
- “Mules” who transport or deliver drugs
- Pharmaceutical manufacturers
The wide net may also snare nurses, pharmacy employees, office managers, billing clerks, sales reps, delivery drivers, motel owners and family members of addicts who are accused – rightly or wrongly — of aiding and abetting the illicit drug trade.
Don’t wait for the trap to spring shut
The penalties for drug crimes are harsh, and federal prosecutors will be looking to make examples of the first wave of opioid defendants. At the first whiff of a federal (or state or local) investigation, a person should seek the counsel of an experience criminal defense lawyer.
Many times an attorney can intervene to clear an innocent person or mitigate the fallout. On the other hand, those who try to explain their innocence or come clean to investigators without legal advice often dig themselves a deeper hole.