Appalachian Regional Prescription Opioid Strike Force Takedown

Updated 21 weeks ago From a Release by U.S. Attorney's Office for Southern District of WV

CHARLESTON, W.VA. – United States Attorney Mike Stuart joined multiple law enforcement partners today in Cincinnati, Ohio, to announce enforcement actions involving 60 charged defendants across 11 federal districts, including 31 doctors, 7 pharmacists, 8 nurse practitioners, and 7 other licensed medical professionals for their alleged participation in the illegal prescribing and distributing of opioids and other dangerous narcotics and for health care fraud schemes. 

In addition, the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced that since June 2018, it has excluded over 2,000 individuals from participation in Medicare, Medicaid, and all other Federal health care programs which includes more than 650 providers excluded for conduct related to opioid diversion and abuse.  Since July 2017, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has issued 31 immediate suspension orders, 129 orders to show cause, and received 1386 surrenders for cause nationwide for violations of the Controlled Substances Act. 

“Today’s is an important day for West Virginia and the nation,” said United States Attorney Mike Stuart.   “The single largest prescription opioid law enforcement operation focused solely on Appalachia and the poison peddlers that have wreaked havoc, chaos and despair on our citizens and communities. Today’s effort is only the first of many more significant enforcement efforts to ensure the safety of our citizens. Drug dealers in lab coats are still drug dealers. My office and our dedicated law enforcement partners in the Southern District of West Virginia have been actively engaged in identifying and holding drug dealers accountable and making sure that abusive medical professionals that put profits before patients never write another prescription or treat another patient ever again.”

As part of today’s takedown, Dr. Marc J. Spelar, a psychiatrist in Huntington, West Virginia, was arrested.  Spelar is charged by Indictment with 10 counts of unlawful distribution of controlled substances involving more than 800 prescriptions and over 17,000 opioid pills.  He distributed Schedule II narcotics including dextroamphetamine, methylphenidate, and amphetamine salt, to a patient who did not have a medical need for the drugs and whom the doctor never examined even though the patient had a history of abusing drugs. 

In addition to the cases announced today, Attorney General Barr and U.S. Attorney Thomas T. Cullen announced today that the ARPO Strike Force will expand into the Western District of Virginia, making it the tenth ARPO Strike Force district.  ARPO is a joint law enforcement effort that brings together the resources and expertise of the Health Care Fraud Unit in the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section (HCF Unit), the U.S. Attorney’s Offices for ten federal districts in six states, as well as law enforcement partners at the FBI, HHS Office of the Inspector General (HHS-OIG) and U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).  In addition, the operation includes the participation of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and multiple State Medicaid Fraud Control Units.  The mission of the ARPO Strike Force is to identify and investigate health care fraud schemes in the Appalachian region and surrounding areas, and to effectively and efficiently prosecute medical professionals and others involved in the illegal prescription and distribution of opioids. 

The charges announced today involve individuals contributing to the opioid epidemic, with a particular focus on medical professionals involved in the unlawful distribution of opioids and other prescription narcotics, a priority for the Department.  According to the CDC, approximately 115 Americans die every day of an opioid-related overdose.  

Participating in today’s press conference in Cincinnati, Ohio, were Assistant Attorney General Brian Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division; U.S. Attorney Robert M. Duncan Jr. for the Eastern District of Kentucky; U.S. Attorney Russell M. Coleman for the Western District of Kentucky; U.S. Attorney Benjamin C. Glassman for the Southern District of Ohio; U.S. Attorney William J. Powell for the Northern District of West Virginia; U.S. Attorney Michael B. Stuart for the Southern District of West Virginia; U.S. Attorney J. Douglas Overbey for the Eastern District of Tennessee; U.S. Attorney Donald Q. Cochran for the Middle District of Tennessee; U.S. Attorney D. Michael Dunavant for the Western District of Tennessee; U.S. Attorney Jay E. Town for the Northern District of Alabama; U.S. Attorney Thomas T. Cullen for the Western District of Virginia; Executive Assistant Director Amy Hess of the FBI’s Criminal, Cyber, Response, and Services Branch; Deputy Inspector General for Investigations Gary L. Cantrell of the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG), Assistant Administrator John J. Martin of the DEA Diversion Control Division, and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Deputy Administrator and Director of the Center for Program Integrity (CPI) Alec Alexander.

The ARPO Strike Force is made up of prosecutors and data analysts with the HCF Unit, prosecutors with the ten U.S. Attorney’s Offices in the region, including the newly added Western District of Virginia, and special agents with the FBI, HHS-OIG and DEA.  The ARPO Strike Force operates out of two hubs based in the Cincinnati, Ohio/Northern Kentucky and Nashville, Tennessee, areas, supporting the ten districts that make up the ARPO Strike Force region.  In addition, the APRO Strike Force works closely with other state and federal law enforcement agencies, including the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, State Medicaid Fraud Control Units. 

Since its inception in March 2007, the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, which maintains 14 strike forces operating in 23 districts, has charged nearly 4,000 defendants who have collectively billed the Medicare program for more than $14 billion.  The Medicare Fraud Strike Force, including the ARPO Strike Force, has charged more than 200 individuals with opioid-related crimes.

*********

For any patients impacted by the law enforcement operations, DOJ, DEA, HHS-OIG, HHS’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, CDC’s Opioid Rapid Response Team and all 5 State Departments of Health are deploying federal and state-level strategies to address patient harm and insure continuity of care.  Additional information regarding available treatment programs and where patients can turn for assistance is available as follows:

Alabama: The Alabama Department of Mental Health has a dedicated telephone number to connect those affected by the closure. The toll-free substance abuse number is 1-844-307-1760.   Information about substance abuse and opioids is available at the following websites:

http://www.alabamapublichealth.gov/pharmacy/opioid-and-heroin.html

https://mh.alabama.gov/understanding-the-opioid-crisis/

Kentucky: If you are in Kentucky and are suffering with addiction you can find help by calling 833-8KY-HELP or logging in at Findhelpnowky.org

Ohio: If you are seeking help in Ohio, please call the OhioMHAS patient helpline, at 1-877-275-6364

Tennessee: If you are seeking help in Tennessee:

  • For a referral to addiction treatment services, call the Tennessee REDLINE: 800-889-9789.
  • In a mental health crisis, call the Statewide Crisis Line: 855-CRISIS-1 (855-274-7471).
  • For help accessing substance abuse or mental health services call the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services Helpline: 800-560-5767 or 615-532-6700. This line is staffed Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. CT.

West Virginia: If you are in West Virginia and are suffering with addiction you can find help by calling 1-844-HELP-4WV or logging in at https://HelpandHopeWV.org

For individuals seeking help in other states, please call 1-800-662-HELP

If you, a family member, friend or loved one believe you may be a victim in any of these cases or in connection with any charged defendant, please visit the following website for additional information: https://www.justice.gov/criminal-vns/case/ARPO

Additional documents related to this announcement are available here:

https://www.justice.gov/opa/documents-and-resources-april-17-2019-press-conference

Comments powered by Disqus