This story, originally published by WJHL, appeared Nov. 20, 2017. Copyright 2017 WJHL.
GREENEVILLE, TN (WJHL) – The Department of Justice’s new Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit is actively investigating cases in Northeast Tennessee, Knoxville and Chattanooga, according to U.S. Attorney Nancy Harr.
“There are cases in all divisions,” she said. “We have active investigations in the Northeast Division, Knoxville Division and the Chattanooga Division.”
Harr said her office, along with the Drug Enforcement Administration and Federal Bureau of Investigation, are maximizing the use of a newly funded prosecutor focused on the opioid epidemic. The prosecutor is one of just 12 nationwide selected by the Department of Justice for a three-year pilot program.
“It’s important to us that we attack the drug dealers that are killing our people and when a physician or a nurse practitioner becomes a drug dealer, we’re going to hold them accountable the same as we would as someone in a gang,” Harr said. “We are one of the 12 most seriously impacted areas in the United States and that’s unacceptable.”
Harr said using data, the Department of Justice has queued up cases in the Eastern District of Tennessee for investigation in addition to other cases that were already in the pipeline.
“(Medical professionals) are prescribing substances to people who have no legitimate need for it. It’s done strictly for money,” she said. “If you’re endangering the lives of East Tennesseans, you’re going to be held accountable.”
The federal criminal investigations come at the same time local district attorneys are taking drug makers to state court. They filed a lawsuit on behalf of “Baby Doe,” who they say was born addicted to opioids. Their attorney welcomes criminal investigations.
“This is an epidemic of unprecedented proportions in Tennessee and we have to use all measures that are available to try to combat it,” Gerard Stranch said. “It’s gonna have to be criminal, civil, it’s going to have to be legislative, it’s gonna have to be regulatory.”
Harr said the multiple criminal investigations currently underway are in “various stages.”