Justice Department charges 12 medical professionals for allegedly fueling the opioid epidemic in Appalachian region

Washington — Over a dozen defendants across eight federal districts have been charged in connection with the illegal prescription and distribution of 5.1 million opioid pills, the Justice Department announced Wednesday. 

The various law enforcement actions were the result of the department’s Appalachian Regional Prescription Opioid (ARPO) Strike Force, a multiagency approach that targets the unlawful prescription of opioid drugs across the Appalachian region. According to Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Polite, who was part of Wednesday’s criminal announcement in Cincinnati, Ohio, over 75,000 Americans died last year due to opioid overdoses.  

“The Department of Justice will continue to work tirelessly with its partners to combat this epidemic and to seek to prevent the next tragic loss of life,” Polite said. 

The defendants span seven states and account for approximately $7 million in opioid-related fraud loss, according to the Justice Department. One pharmacist in Florida allegedly sold 219,567 pills of oxycodone and 112,840 pills of hydromorphone on the black market between 2019 and 2021. In another case, an Alabama physician and a codefendant are accused of signing off on fraudulent prescriptions and medical bills for patients across three different medical clinics. And in Tennessee, a family medicine doctor allegedly ordered doses of opioids like hydrocodone and oxycodone for patients who did not need them. 

A grand jury indicted Kentucky dentist Jay Sadrinia for allegedly prescribing opioid pills without a legitimate medical purpose in August 2020. That month, Sardinia provided three opioid prescriptions to a 24-year-old dental patient over a span of five days, prosecutors claimed. The patient later died from a morphine overdose allegedly tied to one of the dentist’s prescriptions, according to the Justice Department.

“From January 2016 to September 2020, a review of just Dr. Sadrinia’s prescribing showed that Dr. Sadrinia issued approximately 3,577 prescriptions for Oxycodone, totaling approximately 62,943 pills that were dispensed to his patients,” prosecutors also alleged in a recent court filing, prescriptions that they say likely fell “outside the accepted practice of dentistry.” Sadrinia’s defense attorney, Robert McBride, did not comment on his client’s pending case, which is set to go to trial later this month, according to court records.

The Appalachian Regional Prescription Opioid Strike Force has so far charged 111 defendants over three years. In all, those defendants are accused of prescribing 115 million controlled substance pills. One person dies from a drug overdose every 5 minutes throughout the United States, the DEA said Wednesday. 

“These medical professionals…are operating no different than any drug dealer,” U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio Kenneth L. Parker said Wednesday. “They are simply donning white coats while they are prescribing dangerous levels of opioids.”