US Attorney’s office says prosecuting pill mills is a top priority in combating opioid crisis

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - A recent Harvard study says Alabama's 4th congressional district has the highest rate of opioid prescriptions out of any other congressional district in the county. Officials say it's a length prosecute those prescribing the drug.

US Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama Jay Town says in 2016 there were 44,000 deadly opioid overdoses in the U.S.

"We don't even track the number of fatal overdoses very well. So that number is probably under-reported," says Town.

Town says a death resulting in overdose is a federal crime.

"Physicians and doctors and those who would use the cloak of the medical practice to actually be pill pushers," says Town.

Pill pushers are who the Department of Justice is after.

"We are not only engaging our federal agencies to take administrative and civil measures to strip them of their licenses, their responsibility to prescribe pharmaceuticals, but we are engaging our state partners," explains Town.

He tells WHNT News 19 getting state and local officials involved in solving the opioid crisis is critical.

"That's important because they have the intelligence on the people who are frequenting that clinic," says Town.

The US Attorney says a federal criminal investigation into pill mills are time-consuming.

"We can only handle so many criminal investigations at the time and these doctors. Our resources won't allow us to go after 10 or 15 doctors because it's so intense. The amount of paperwork, the amount of evidence that is needed in these types of cases," says Town.

The amount of evidence needed is one reason the US Attorney's office looks to state and local officials to also help get opioids off the streets. He says time is of the essence.

"I can't wait that long. Neither can our families and our neighborhoods and our communities and our children," says Town.

The Department of Justice is working to find a better method of collecting overdose information. Town says this will be useful for law enforcement and prosecutors moving forward.

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