June 28 (UPI) -- The U.S. Department of Justice charged 601 people, including 165 doctors and other medical professionals, Thursday for allegedly making more than $2 billion in false billings.
Among those charged, 162 defendants, including 76 doctors, were charged with contributing to the opioid crisis by unlawfully prescribing opioids and other narcotics.
"Some of our most trusted medical professionals look at their patients - vulnerable people suffering from addiction -- and they see dollar signs," Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Thursday.
Sessions referred to the operation as "the largest healthcare fraud takedown operation in American history" spanning 58 federal districts and involving more than 1,000 state and federal law enforcement agents.
The charges also targeted schemes in which the defendants allegedly submitted claims to Medicare, Medicaid, TRICARE -- a military healthcare program -- and private insurance companies for medically unnecessary prescription drugs and other treatments that were never provided in some cases.
"Many of these fraudsters have stolen our tax dollars -- and many have helped flood our streets with drugs," Sessions said. "For example, one doctor allegedly defrauded Medicare of more than $112 million by distributing 2.2 million unnecessary doses of drugs like oxycodone and fentanyl."
In many of the cases patient recruiters, beneficiaries and others involved in the schemes were paid cash kickbacks in return for supplying beneficiary information to providers, allowing the providers to submit fraudulent bills to Medicare, according to court documents.
Sessions touted new tools to combat these types of fraud, including the Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit.
"This data analytics team can tell us important information, like who is prescribing the most drugs, who is dispensing the most drugs, and whose patients are dying of overdoses," he said.
He also assigned a dozen prosecutors to focus solely on investigating and prosecuting opioid-related healthcare fraud in districts in need.
"Today is a historic day -- but our work is not finished. We are just getting started. We will continue to find, arrest, prosecute, convict, and incarcerate fraudsters and drug dealers wherever they are," Sessions said.