The creation of this new unit promises to yield an uptick in investigations and criminal prosecutions for violations of federal controlled-substances laws.

On August 2, 2017, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the creation of the Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit, a Department of Justice pilot program designed to combat the opioid-addiction epidemic ravaging parts of the country. This initiative will fund a new healthcare data analytics program and several new federal prosecutors dedicated to the prosecution of healthcare fraud.

Per the Department of Justice announcement, the new program consists of two parts. First, the DOJ will be creating a team of analysts tasked with evaluating provider prescribing data. This team will collect information to identify physicians, pharmacies and other providers who are dispensing disproportionately large amounts of prescription opioids. Second, the DOJ will be placing 12 federal prosecutors in specific judicial districts across the country, including Pennsylvania, Maryland, California, Nevada and Florida, whose focus will be on using the data prepared by the analysts to prosecute opioid-related healthcare fraud and abuse cases. Per the attorney general’s prepared remarks, “These prosecutors… will help us target and prosecute these doctors, pharmacies and medical providers who are furthering this epidemic to line their pockets.”

While the impact of this particular program remains to be seen, healthcare providers dispensing opioid medications should be aware. The creation of this new unit promises to yield an uptick in investigations and criminal prosecutions for violations of federal controlled-substances laws, as well as a renewed emphasis on civil claims for submitting false claims for reimbursement to federal healthcare payers, like Medicare and Medicaid.