First ever indictment against Chinese manufacturers of opioids

The Justice Department recently took unprecedented steps to combat the opioid crisis in the United States by filing indictments against Chinese manufacturers of fentanyl and other opioid substances. The department has labeled these manufacturers as Consolidate Priority Organization Targets (CPOTS), which it believes are the “most significant drug trafficking threats in the world,” because they have elements of the most productive money laundering and drug trafficking organizations.

The investigations of the Chinese manufacturers revealed a new and disturbing facet of the opioid crisis in America—fentanyl and fentanyl analogues are coming into the United States in numerous ways, including highly pure shipments of fentanyl from factories in China directly to U.S. customers who purchase it on the Internet. Unwary or inexperienced users often have no idea that they are ingesting fentanyl until it is too late. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that over 20,000 Americans were killed by fentanyl and fentanyl analogues in 2016, and the number is rising at an exponential rate.

The indictments, filed against two Chinese nationalists and a handful of American citizens which are alleged to have conspired with the nationalists, claimed that the nationals operated chemical plants and labs in China and sold fentanyl to United States citizens via the internet. The indictment against one manufacturer further alleged that the chemical structure of the drugs had been modified in order to evade prosecution. If convicted, the nationalists could face prison time and significant monetary penalties.

Sessions creates opioid fraud detection unit, focuses on 12 districts

Twelve federal districts have been selected to participate in an Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit, created by the Department of Justice (DOJ). The DOJ will fund twelve Assistant United States Attorneys for three year terms to focus solely on investigating and prosecuting fraud related to prescription opioids. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the program’s formation at the Columbus Police Academy in Ohio.

Data analytics program

The unit will consist of a data analytics program, which will allow targeted investigation and prosecution. Sessions stated that the team would use such information as physicians who prescribe opioids at a higher rate than peers, the average age of patients receiving the prescriptions, and pharmacies dispensing large amounts of opioids to focus its investigation.

The federal prosecutors, located in districts across the country, will work with various agencies to investigate and prosecute opioid fraud, including pill mills and unlawful diversion of opioids. Most of the districts are located in the east and Midwest, such as Florida, Michigan, Alabama, Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia.