MADISON COUNTY, Ala. - We're learning more about the largest opioid takedown of medical providers in the nation. It resulted in charges against 60 individuals from seven states including Alabama. Three of the four arrests in Alabama are doctors from Madison County. US attorney for the Northern District, Jay Town, says investigations into doctors can take years. The task force completed theirs in just a few months.
To help combat the opioid crisis, the U.S. Department of Justice formed a strike force for the Appalachian region designed to investigate illegal opioid prescriptions and distribution.
"We ended up doing investigations that would normally take two years, took about 4 months," Town said.
Town credits that to the use of resources. "We have hyper-accurate data at the DEA and other agencies in the federal government where we are able to that data and we can sort of pinpoint where these pills are being over-prescribed just by the population center in which they're being prescribed."
The takedown itself was coordinated in 18 hours. Town says 60 people were arrested, 31 were doctors who allegedly prescribed 32 million pills.
"That's more pills than people in these states in which these cases are being prosecuted," he said.
That sounds like a lot, but Town says it only scratches the surface of this issue.
"There are more doctors out there, there are more people working in clinics, and physicians offices, or pharmacies, or in compounding pharmacies, that we still have ongoing investigations or beginning investigations," Town said.
And he is confident there will be more takedowns like this in the future.
"If you're a doctor and you want to act like a drug dealer, we're going to treat you like one. And sometimes the only difference between a doctor and a drug dealer is a white coat," he said.
Often times, takedowns can leave patients without a doctor. This task force took measures to help patients. Town says they were able to get access to their file and agents directed them to clinics that are operating legally in the community.