Struggling to contain a national opioid epidemic, the United States Justice Department (DOJ) Criminal Division this week gathered various law enforcement operations together under the New England Prescription Opioid (NEPO) Strike Force.
The strike force represents a renewed focus on unlawful prescriptions of opioids, forming a sort of one-stop-shop for the identification and investigation of health care fraud schemes, as well as prosecution of those found to be distributing illegal prescription opioids and other controlled substances. Physicians, pharmacists, and other medical professionals will be under increased scrutiny as a result.
“This NEPO Strike Force expands and sharpens the Justice Department’s response to the nation’s opioid epidemic,” Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Polite, Jr., of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, said. “In the last year, more than 75,000 people in the United States lost their lives due to overdose. Since 2018, some of the greatest spikes in the drug overdose death rate have occurred in New England. The NEPO Strike Force will help to address one of the root causes of the epidemic: unlawful prescription and diversion of opioids. Together with our partners, we will fulfill the department’s solemn promise to deploy critical resources to address the opioid crisis.”
Members of the new task force include officials from the Health Care Fraud Unit in the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section, the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices for three federal districts, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General (HHS-OIG), U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). As such, prosecutors, data analysts, and agents will work in tandem from Concord, N.H., to support the three districts in the strike force’s region: New Hampshire, Maine, and Vermont.
“At a time when the United States is losing tens of thousands of Americans to opioid overdoses every year, it has never been more critical to ensure doctors and health care practitioners are prioritizing the safety and health of their patients,” DEA Administrator Anne Milgram said. “The creation of the New England Prescription Opioid Strike Force further strengthens our important cooperation with partners in the region to hold accountable any practitioner who recklessly distributes opioid medications.”