By: Jacqueline Bain
Earlier this month, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the formation of the Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit, which is a pilot program of the United Stated Department of Justice. AG Sessions noted that there are three components to approach the opioid crisis that our nation faces: prevention, treatment and enforcement.
- Prevention. AG Sessions noted briefly that the DOJ is undertaking that component through raising awareness, through drug take-back programs, and through DEA’s 360 Strategy program, which incorporates law enforcement, diversion control and community outreach to tackle the cycle of violence and addiction in US cities. He also stated that law enforcement is a component of prevention.
- Treatment. AG Sessions articulated that treatment can help break the cycle of addiction and crime and help people get their lives back together.
- Enforcement. AG Sessions dove deep in the area of enforcement, reasoning that enforcing our laws helps keep drugs out of the hands of our citizens, decreases their availability, drives up their price, and reduces their purity and addictiveness. He added, “Enforcement will make a difference in turning the tide in this epidemic.”
In spite of stressing the need for prevention and treatment, AG Sessions announcement of the Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit includes efforts that all center on enforcement. AG Sessions created the Unit to focus specifically on opioid-related health care fraud using data to identify and prosecute individuals who are determined to be contributors to the opioid epidemic. This Unit will use a data analytics team to determine “which physicians are writing opioid prescriptions at a rate that far exceeds their peers; how many of a doctor’s patients died within 60 days of an opioid prescription; the average age of the patients receiving these prescriptions; pharmacies that are dispensing disproportionately large amounts of opioids; and regional hot spots for opioid issues.”
AG Sessions also assigned twelve prosecutors (including one right here in Florida) to work with the FBI, DEA, HHS and State governments to investigate and prosecute opioid-related health care fraud cases. The prosecutors will target doctors, pharmacies, and medical providers.
In this industry, a single approach may have some success, but long-term defeat of this epidemic should take on a multi-faceted approach. Enforcement is a large part of any government intervention, but where are the Government’s proactive measures? Proactive measures don’t grab headlines, so they aren’t the focus of any press conferences.
Proactive measures might include a Federal initiative for education of both prescribers and users and incentives for alternatives to opioid treatments? Or international efforts of the Federal government to stop the import of opioids from overseas? Similarly, where is the Government aid for the millions currently affected by opioid dependency? Where is the input from insurance companies showing their plans to successfully treat their insureds, even it treatment takes more time than the company’s standard timetable? Sure these measures sound boring, but they are crucially important.
So many times, an important and successful method of helping others is educating them to help themselves. It may not be a short-term effort, but education about certain topics results in knowledge and understanding about how to handle and react in situations. We are missing a real opportunity here to turn it around for future generations as well as those currently caught in this vicious cycle.
Creation of the Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit is a start, but the Federal government must not consider it, in its current state, to be the overriding effort pushing forward to combat opioid dependence in America. The Federal Government must involve those working in the field, and outside of enforcement, to bring about real and sustained success.