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May 24, 2019

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Feds unveil opioid crackdown aimed at Nevada doctors

Operation Hypocritical Oath

Steve Marcus

Nicholas Trutanich, U.S. attorney for the district of Nevada, speaks during a news conference at the Drug Enforcement Administration office in Las Vegas Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019. Daniel Neill, assistant special agent in charge for the DEA in Las Vegas, stands by at left. Officials discussed Operation Hypocritical Oath, an initiative targeting physicians who illegally prescribe controlled substances.

Operation Hypocritical Oath

Daniel W. Neill, assistant special agent in charge for the Drug Enforcement Administration in Las Vegas, responds to a question during a news conference at the DEA office in Las Vegas Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019. Metro Police Deputy Chief Christopher Darcy is at right. Officials discussed Operation Hypocritical Oath, an initiative targeting physicians who illegally prescribe controlled substances. Launch slideshow »

Medical professionals who illegally distribute opioids are no different than street drug dealers.

At least that’s how they were described Thursday afternoon by federal officials, who announced preliminary results of Operation Hypocritical Oath, a multi-state effort to bust them.

Daniel Neill, head of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s state operations, and U.S. Attorney for Nevada Nicholas Trutanich briefed the public from the DEA’s Las Vegas office about the “wide-gamut operation,” which kicked off a year ago.

The officials were flanked by local and federal officials.

In Nevada, five search warrants (three of them in Clark County) led authorities to recover nine firearms, thousands of bullets and $35,000 in cash, leading to the suspension or surrender of prescription licenses. Warrants were simultaneously served here, California and Hawaii on Thursday morning, officials said. In all, more than 236,000 counterfeit prescription pills were seized and 41 licenses were taken, while more than $3 million were recovered, Neill said.

As of Thursday, no arrests had been made in Nevada, Neill said, “not to say there won’t be in the future,” adding that the investigations are not over.

Officials released few details relating to the probe, while precise locations where the warrants were executed were not provided. But they included at least one medical facility and at least one home.

Opioid abuse has become a national emergency often described as an epidemic, which kills more people than traffic crashes and shootings combined.

More than 73,000 Americans died by drug overdose in 2017, a majority of which involved opioids. This represents a steady increase from 50,000 in 2015 and about 63,000 the following year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

About two years ago, the Department of Justice allocated funding for a special federal prosecutor specifically tasked with combating opioids, Trutanich said.

Since then, the U.S. attorney’s office has more aggressively pursued cases against medical professionals acting outside the law, Trutanich said. More than 10 such suspects have been targeted as of then.

“Although the vast majority of doctors in this state are doing right by their patients,” he said, there is a “visible minority” doing harm.

“dirty doctors armed with a lab coat and prescription pads.”

Citing the most recent statistics from 2015, Trutanich said that roughly 2.4 million opioid prescriptions had been approved, which amounts to 83 prescriptions for every 100 residents.

Authorities can’t arrest their way out of a problem, but operations like Hypocritical Oath can send a message, the officials said.

After all, criminal acts by medical professionals only show that “they’re trying to make money off the addiction of others — and that’s a shame,” Neill said.

“If you’re a doctor (or pharmacist) working outside your scope,” Neill said, “we’re going to be doing all we can to investigate you.”