Northeast Tennessee to receive federal assistance with opioid fight

Becky Campbell • Aug 5, 2017 at 11:21 PM

The federal government has joined the fight against opioid addiction, and the Eastern District of Tennessee is one of a dozen areas chosen to participate in a drug fraud and abuse detection unit. 

U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said he was pleased that East Tennessee will be part of the Department of Justice’s Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit, a pilot program that will use data and assign a prosecutor to specifically prosecute people who contribute to the epidemic.

“The prescription opioid epidemic is destroying lives and tearing apart families, and I am glad to see the Eastern District of Tennessee selected for this pilot program,” Corker said in a press release on Wednesday.

“This partnership will be an added resource for the U.S. attorney’s office, and I am hopeful the efforts can bring to justice the pill mills and unlawful pharmacies that are profiting off the hardships of Tennesseans affected by opioid abuse.”

Sullivan County District Attorney Barry Staubus said he was excited to hear about the action U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions took.

“I think it's a great idea,” Staubus said. “What I was really interested in is that East Tennessee is going to be given some of those prosecutors. Some of these pill mills and pain clinics, it really needs federal investigation to be successful in prosecution.”

Sessions’ announcement comes on the heels of a White House panel tasked with examining the opioid epidemic urging President Donald Trump to declare it a public health emergency.

“Our citizens are dying,” commission chair and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said in a report to the president. “The first and most urgent recommendation of this commission is direct and completely within your control. Declare a national emergency.”

Opioids have taken a strong hold in many areas, including East Tennessee. Statewide, there was a 13.8 percent increase in drug overdose deaths related to opioid use.

Local prosecutors — District Attorneys General Tony Clark, Staubus and Dan Montgomery, from the First, Second and Third Judicial districts, respectively — have taken things into their own hands by suing:

• Purdue Pharma Inc., a New York corporation with the principal place of business in Connecticut;

• Mallinckrodt PLC, an Irish company with corporate headquarters in Staines-upon-Thames, United Kingdom;

• Endo Pharmaceuticals Inc., a Delaware corporation owned by Endo Health Solutions;

• Center Pointe Medical Clinic LLC, a Tennessee limited liability corporation at 2020 Brookside Drive, Kingsport;

• Elizabeth Ann Bowers Campbell, of Johnson City, who the suit said participated in the illegal drug market for opioids; and

• Pamela Moore, of Church Hill, who was also accused of participating in the illegal drug market for opioids.

Recently, Dr. Abdelrahman Hassabu Mohamed, of Morristown, was added to the list of defendants because of the amount of opioids he prescribed from a neurology and pain management clinic.

Staubus said he hopes the federal push into the fight on opioids will help clear up pill mill activity that targets addicts.

“Hopefully, if they’re operating illegally and improperly the’ll be prosecuted,” Staubus said. “I believe these folks will work with local law enforcement agencies and state agencies to work together to come to resolution.

“I welcome it. I think it's a good idea and particularly to bring these positions to East Tennessee, which statistically is one of the top areas in the state” for opioid prescriptions and abuse.

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