East Tennessee is one of 12 regions in the country selected as part of a new department of justice initiative to reduce drug overdoses
Those dozen areas will receive a federal prosecutor to help investigate and prosecute doctors who illegally prescribe pain pills.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the pilot program Wednesday at the headquarters of the police department in Columbus, Ohio, which is located in a county where 173 people have died this year alone as a result of drug overdoses.
“If you are a doctor illegally prescribing opioids for profit or a pharmacist letting these pills walk out the door and onto our streets based on prescriptions you know were obtained under false pretenses, we are coming after you,” Sessions said. “We will reverse these devastating trends with every tool we have.”
Sessions called the new initiative an “opioid fraud and abuse detection unit,” and said it will “focus specifically on opioid-related health care fraud using data to identify and prosecute individuals that are contributing to this opioid epidemic.”
"With this data in hand, I am also assigning 12 experienced prosecutors to focus solely on investigating and prosecuting opioid-related health care fraud cases in a dozen locations around the country where we know enforcement will make a difference in turning the tide on this epidemic," Sessions said.
Working in tandem with the FBI, DEA and local law enforcement, the prosecutors “will help us target and prosecute these doctors, pharmacies, and medical providers who are furthering this epidemic to line their pockets,” Sessions said.
Session said the drug epidemic is one of the biggest issues facing the country, but he is optimistic about its outcome.
"In the face of the worst drug crisis in our history, we need to use every lawful tool we have and we will. But I'm convinced that this prescription drug abuse effort is a winnable war," he said.
The 12 regions in the program are:
1.Middle District of Florida
2.Eastern District of Michigan
3.Northern District of Alabama
4.Eastern District of Tennessee
5.District of Nevada
6.Eastern District of Kentucky
7.District of Maryland
8.Western District of Pennsylvania
9.Southern District of Ohio
10.Eastern District of California
11.Middle District of North Carolina
12.Southern District of West Virginia
On Monday, the presidential opioid commission urged Trump to “declare a national emergency” and made several recommendations for fighting the epidemic like expanding treatment facilities across the country, educating doctors about the proper way to prescribe pain medication and equipping all police officers with the anti-overdose remedy naloxone.
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