CINCINNATI, Ohio (AP/WSAZ News Staff) -- Federal authorities say they have charged 60 people, including 31 doctors, for their roles in illegal prescribing and distributing of opioids and other dangerous drugs.
The action announced Wednesday in Cincinnati and Washington resulted from the federal Appalachian Regional Prescription Opioid Strike Force and includes defendants in at least seven states. They are Alabama, Kentucky, Louisiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and West Virginia.
Authorities say the 60 include a total of 53 medical professionals tied to some 350,000 prescriptions and 32 million pills.
"Opioid misuse and abuse is an insidious epidemic, created in large part, by the over-prescribing of potent opioids nationwide, and unfortunately, Appalachia is at the center," said DEA Assistant Administrator John Martin. "Today's announcement sends a clear message that investigations involving diversion of prescription drugs have been, and continue to be, a priority for DEA."
In the Southern District of Ohio, six people, including two doctors and three registered pharmacists, were charged.
In one case, a doctor, who was one at one time known as the highest prescriber of controlled substances in the state, and several pharmacists are charged with operating an alleged "pill mill."
According to the indictment, in a two-year period, the pharmacy in Dayton, Ohio, dispensed over 1.75 million pills.
In the Eastern District of Kentucky, five people were charged, including three doctors, a dentist and an office assistant.
Dr. Mohammed Mazumder, Dr. Scott Akers, Dr. Denver Tackett and Dr. Sai Gutti are all facing charges.
In one of the cases in eastern Kentucky, a doctor operated a pain management clinic and provided pre-signed, blank prescriptions to office staff who then used them to prescribe controlled substances while he was out of the office.
In another case, a dentist is accused of unnecessarily pulling patient's teeth to give them opioids.
In the Southern District of West Virginia, a psychiatrist, named Dr. Marc Spelar, was charged with allegedly distributing narcotics to a patient who didn't have a medical need for the drugs. The U.S. Attorney says his case involved more than 800 prescriptions and more than 17,000 opioids.
"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."
"This targets the so-called medical professionals who abused their oaths and abandoned their responsibilities to the patients who trusted them. This illustrates the lure of greed and making a profit at the expense of those that need treatment," said Amy Hess with the FBI.
U.S. health authorities have reported there were more than 70,000 drug overdose deaths in 2017, for a rate of 21.7 per 100,000 people. West Virginia and Ohio have regularly been among the states with the highest overdose death rates as the opioid crisis has swelled in recent years.
The arrests have left many patients without health care.
If you or a loved one needs help, there are treatment centers in West Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky.