Sixty people across 11 federal districts were charged for their alleged participation in the illegal prescribing and distributing of opioids and other dangerous narcotics and for health care fraud schemes, according to the Appalachian Regional Prescription Opioid (ARPO) Strike Force.
Officials said these included 31 doctors, seven pharmacists, eight nurse practitioners, and seven other licensed medical professionals in Alabama, Kentucky, Louisiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, West Virginia and Virginia.
The charges involve over 350,000 prescriptions for controlled substances and over 32 million pills, according to Attorney General William P. Barr and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex M. Azar II, with multiple law enforcement partners.
In addition, HHS said that since June 2018, it has excluded over 2,000 individuals from participation in Medicare, Medicaid and all other Federal health care programs, which includes more than 650 providers excluded for conduct related to opioid diversion and abuse. Since July 2017, DEA has issued 31 immediate suspension orders, 129 orders to show cause, and received 1,386 surrenders for cause nationwide for violations of the Controlled Substances Act.
In the Eastern District of Tennessee, a total of eight individuals, including five doctors, a nurse practitioner, a physician’s assistant and an office manager were charged in four cases, according to ARPO.
Officials said four doctors, a nurse practitioner and a physician’s assistant were charged with the unlawful distribution of opioids. Two doctors were charged with health care fraud violations. Three of these cases are related to alleged pill mill operations in the Eastern District of Tennessee.
On April 2, a federal grand jury returned an indictment against Maryville resident Dr. Charles Brooks, 61, charging him with one count of conspiracy to distribute Schedule III, IV and V drugs, as well as one count of healthcare fraud for aiding and abetting a false statement related to health care matters.
On April 16, a federal grand jury returned an indictment against Knoxville resident Dr. Stephen Mynatt, 64, and Maryville resident Dr. David Newman, 58, charging them with conspiracy to distribute Schedule II controlled drugs. Mynatt was also charged with two counts of distribution of Schedule II drugs. Both Mynatt and Newman were affiliated with Tennessee Valley Pain Specialists.
On April 16, a federal grand jury returned an indictment against Paducah, Ky. resident Dr. Henry Babenco, 58; Jacksboro resident Sharon Naylor, 53; Oneida resident Alicia Taylor, 29; and Jacksboro resident Gregory Madron, 54, charging all of them with conspiracy to distribute Schedule II controlled drugs. Naylor and Babenco were also charged with money laundering. Babenco, Naylor, Taylor and Madron were all associated with LaFollette Wellness Center.
On April 16, a federal grand jury indicted Manchester resident Dr. Harrison Yang, 75, with healthcare fraud violations.
In addition to assistance provided by the FBI, DEA and HHS-OIG, these cases were brought in connection with assistance from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, Medicaid Fraud Control Unit, according to authorities.
The charges announced Wednesday, April 17 involve individuals contributing to the opioid epidemic, with a particular focus on medical professionals involved in the unlawful distribution of opioids and other prescription narcotics, a priority for the Department. According to the CDC, approximately 130 Americans die every day of an opioid overdose, according to officials.
The ARPO Strike Force is made up of prosecutors and data analysts with the HCF Unit, prosecutors with the 10 U.S. Attorney’s Offices in the region, including the newly added Western District of Virginia, and special agents with the FBI, HHS-OIG and DEA. The ARPO Strike Force operates out of two hubs based in the Cincinnati, Ohio/Northern Kentucky and Nashville, Tennessee, areas, supporting the 10 districts that make up the ARPO Strike Force region. In addition, the APRO Strike Force works closely with other state and federal law enforcement agencies, including the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, State Medicaid Fraud Control Units.
If you are seeking help in Tennessee:
- For a referral to addiction treatment services, call the Tennessee REDLINE: 800-889-9789.
- In a mental health crisis, call the Statewide Crisis Line: 855-CRISIS-1 (855-274-7471).
- For help accessing substance abuse or mental health services call the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services Helpline: 800-560-5767 or 615-532-6700. This line is staffed Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. CT.