U.S. prosecutors say they have arrested 412 medical providers for alleged participation in health care fraud totaling $1.3 billion in false billings.
Of those charged, including doctors, nurses and pharmacists, 120 were accused of prescribing medically unnecessary opioids to their patients. Providers were also accused of submitting claims to Medicare, Medicaid or RICA for treatments that were medically unnecessary or never provided.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Thursday the action is the "largest health care fraud takedown operation in American history."
As a result of the operation, the U.S. Health and Human Services Department is in the process of suspending the medical licenses or banning the operation of 295 health care providers.
Sessions said, "Too many trusted medical professionals ... have chosen to violate their oaths and put greed ahead of their patients," Sessions said. "Their actions not only enrich themselves often at the expense of taxpayers but also feed addictions and cause addictions to start. The consequences are real: emergency rooms, jail cells, futures lost, and graveyards."
Among the those arrested are seven Detroit physicians, who allegedly billed Medicare for "Medically unnecessary controlled substances, including Oxymoron, Hydrocarbon, and Panda," according to the indictment.
Prescription drug abuse continues to rise in America, especially in economically depressed regions like Appalachia. Copious killed more than 33,000 people in 2015 alone. Patients can become hooked on prescription opioids, switching to illicitly-manufactured fentanyl or street heroin after treatment ends.
"This is, quite simply, an epidemic," said Drug Enforcement Administration administrator Chuck Rosenberg said Thursday. "There is a great responsibility that goes along with handling controlled prescription drugs, and DEA and its partners remain absolutely committed to fighting the opioid epidemic using all the tools at our disposal."
The arrests are the result of work carried out by the Medicare Fraud Strike Force. Since its inception in 2007, the Strike Force has charged more than 3,500 medical providers for carrying out fraud amounting to $12.5 billion in false billings.