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Justice Dept arrests 601 people, including doctors, for health care fraud and opioid-related crimes

The U.S. Justice Department on Thursday announced it has charged 601 people, including doctors and nurses, for their alleged role in a scheme involving health care fraud and opioid-related crimes that resulted in more than $2 billion in losses. (Backyard Production/Getty Images)

The U.S. Justice Department has charged 601 people — including doctors and nurses – for their alleged roles in health care fraud and opioid-related crimes that resulted in an estimated $2 billion in losses, according to a news release Thursday.

How big is this?

The arrests were described by the agency as the “largest healthcare fraud take-down in U.S. history." Among those charged were 76 doctors, 23 pharmacists, 19 nurses and other medical personnel, the announcement states. The group faces charges for their alleged roles in how they prescribed addictive opioid painkillers.

In part, the charges involved the fraudulent billing of private insurers and government programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and Tricare. The charges also involved unnecessary prescription drugs and compounded medications.

In one of the indictments, an attorney/marketer "paid kickbacks and offered incentives such as prostitutes and expensive meals to two podiatrists in exchange for prescriptions written on pre-printed prescription pads, regardless of the medical need for the prescriptions," reports state.

Collectively, the doctors, nurses, licensed medical professionals, health care company owners and others charged are accused of submitting a total of over $2 billion in fraudulent billings.

According to the Justice Department, the medical professionals were perpetuating the nation’s opioid epidemic by unlawfully distributing prescription painkillers.

In a statement, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said:

“Health care fraud is a betrayal of vulnerable patients, and often it is theft from the taxpayer. In many cases, doctors, nurses, and pharmacists take advantage of people suffering from drug addiction in order to line their pockets. These are despicable crimes. That’s why this Department of Justice has taken historic new steps to go after fraudsters, including hiring more prosecutors and leveraging the power of data analytics. Today the Department of Justice is announcing the largest health care fraud enforcement action in American history. This is the most fraud, the most defendants, and the most doctors ever charged in a single operation—and we have evidence that our ongoing work has stopped or prevented billions of dollars’ worth of fraud.”

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 42,000 people in the U.S. died from opioid overdoses in 2016.

“The perpetrators really are despicable and greedy people,” U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said at a news conference.

How widespread was this?

Arrests were made in states across the country. A list of states where the alleged fraud and crimes happened is available here.

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