INDIANAPOLIS (May 26, 2015) – Federal prosecutors are promising to target Indiana doctors and pharmacists who are recklessly prescribing prescription drugs.
The policy shift is in response to the state’s HIV epidemic linked to drug use. As of Tuesday, state health officials said 162 people have tested positive for HIV in southern Indiana.
“Really this has caught our attention,” U.S. Attorney Josh Minkler said in an interview with CBS4. “We need to react immediately to this problem.”
Minkler, a federal drug prosecutor for 20 years, took over as U.S. Attorney last year representing the Southern District of Indiana.
“Our resources are to go after the sources, and I think at least my studies have shown, we know where the prescription drugs come from,” he said.
Minkler said that’s doctors and pharmacists writing and filling too many prescriptions, some which end up on the black market, eventually leading to heroin use and now southern Indiana’s HIV epidemic.
“It got the attention at the highest levels of the Department of Justice,” Minkler said. “And so I’ve looked into it. We have to take ownership of, at least in the United States Attorney’s Office, is demand reduction.”
Minkler has assigned an assistant U.S. attorney to work solely on the problem in conjunction with three full-time agents at the Drug Enforcement Administration.
An analysis by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found in Indiana 109 painkiller prescriptions written for every 100 people in 2012. The nationwide average was 82 prescriptions.
"I was very surprised," Minkler said. "I was not aware of the stats that show how often pain killers are prescribed in this state versus the rest of the country."
Federal agents will be tracking the number of prescriptions Indiana doctors hand out and how many pharmacies fill.
Minkler said there aren’t any specific doctors or pharmacists on the radar of federal investigators yet, adding that they’re “looking into that.”
Since 2009, the Indiana Attorney General’s Office has requested the licenses of 23 Indiana doctors be suspended for over-prescribing.
Federal prosecutors have a wider scope in their ability to arrest and investigate across state lines.
Minkler’s approach is as much a warning as it is an opportunity. He’s meeting with local police to push a major education initiative first to get doctors and pharmacists on board.
“If you won’t, if you ignore it, if you continue to over-prescribe,” he said. “Yeah, then we look to fines and if that doesn’t do it, criminal prosecution.”
Minkler said he hopes to see initial results in six to seven months.