By Gabriella Borter
(Reuters) – Dozens of medical professionals in Appalachia, a region hard-hit by the U.S. opioid crisis, have been charged with writing hundreds of thousands of illegal prescriptions and committing health care fraud, federal prosecutors said on Wednesday.
Sixty people, including 31 doctors, were accused of illegally prescribing opioid drugs in exchange for cash and sexual favors in the rural, mountainous region stretching from Pennsylvania and West Virginia to Alabama and Louisiana.
“The opioid epidemic is the deadliest drug crisis in American history, and Appalachia has suffered the consequences more than perhaps any other region,” Attorney General William P. Barr said in a statement.
Some 130 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
The charges were the result of an investigation by the Appalachian Regional Prescription Opioid Strike Force, a joint law enforcement agency created in December to crack down on prescription fraud schemes that have contributed to the deadly drug epidemic.
The charges were filed against individuals in seven states: West Virginia, Tennessee, Ohio, Alabama, Kentucky, Louisiana, and Pennsylvania.
One doctor in Tennessee who called himself the “Rock Doc” was accused of bargaining for sexual favors by prescribing opioids and benzodiazepines, federal authorities said in the statement. Another doctor in Alabama allegedly recruited prostitutes to become patients at his clinic and allowed them to abuse drugs in his home.
Several doctors were accused of writing pre-signed, blank prescriptions for controlled substances without medically examining the patients that received them.
A few were accused of running “pill mills,” including one in Ohio that allegedly distributed over 1.75 million pills between October 2015 and October 2017.
The period in which many doctors were accused of illegally and excessively dispensing drugs coincided with a spike in overdoses in the United States. Opioid overdoses increased 30 percent between July 2016 and September 2017 in 45 states, according to the CDC.
(Reporting by Gabriella Borter;Editing by Cynthia Osterman)