In all, the practitioners—operating in seven states across the US—have been charged with writing 350,000 illegal prescriptions for the highly-addictive opioids in the 'Appalachian states', which encompasses Alabama, Kentucky, Louisiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and West Virginia.
The opioid epidemic has been responsible for more than 218,000 deaths in the US between 1999 and 2017; the Appalachian states have been particularly affected, and the pattern of misuse in the region alerted federal investigators who started filming doctors and surgeries they suspected of being at the heart of the problem.
According to prosecutors, a doctor in Dayton, Ohio operated a "pill mill" and dispensed more than 1.7 million opioids in two years, and a doctor in Tennessee—who openly described himself as "the Rock Doc"—prescribed dangerous combinations of the painkiller and benzodiazepines, often in exchange for sexual favors. A dentist pulled healthy teeth so that patients could have an opioid prescription, often in exchange for money.
"If these medical professionals behave like drug dealers, you can rest assured that the Justice Department is going to treat them like drug dealers," said Brian Benczkowski from the department's criminal division.