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Justice Department launches New England Prescription Opioid Strike Force to root out overprescribers

U.S. Department of Justice via U.S. Attorney's Office
Darcie McElwee (third from left), Maine's U.S. attorney, at a press conference Wednesday announcing the launch of the New England Prescription Opioid Strike Force.

The Justice Department today announced the launch of the New England Prescription Opioid Strike Force, which will coordinate local and federal law enforcement efforts to find and prosecute medical professionals who illegally distribute prescription opioids.

"The Strike Force will focus on those medical professionals who place a greater value on the profits they earn over the wellbeing of their patients. NEPO will root out medical professionals who profit from the addiction of your families and your neighbors," says Aaron Tapp, the acting deputy assistant director of the FBI's Criminal Investigative Division.

Tapp says more than 75,000 Americans died of an opioid overdose in the last year alone. He says a Strike Force started in the Appalachian region three years ago saved lives, decreased pharmaceutical opioids on the street and prevented addiction.

The Justice Department says Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont are among the states in the country hardest hit by the opioid epidemic.

"To those rogue actors, the NEPO Strike Force is here to ensure your criminal conduct comes to an end and we seek to obtain our goal of reducing addiction and saving lives in New England," says Assistant U.S. Attorney General Kenneth Polite, Jr.

Maine's U.S. Attorney Darcie McElwee says nearly a quarter of drug overdoses in the state in 2020 involved pharmaceutical opioids.

"The very fact that they identified this region, in particular Maine, as a place to bring these resources," she says, "is so clear that they've have identified overprescribers in each of these three districts."

McElwee says the state has always prosecuted those who overprescribe opioids, but the amount of health care fraud has grown over time and is one of the root causes of the opioid epidemic in Maine.

The FBI is appealing to anyone who knows of a doctor, dentist, nurse or other medical professional who is unlawfully prescribing opioids to contact them at 1-800-Call-FBI or online at https://tips.fbi.gov.

Carol Bousquet