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Feds Say They’ll Target More ‘Drug Dealers with Stethoscopes’

One day after sweeping indictments targeted doctors, nurses and pharmacists across Tennessee, Nashville’s top federal prosecutor said law enforcement was not done criminally investigating medical professionals who overprescribe opioids.

Don Cochran, U.S. attorney for the Middle of District of Tennessee, said Thursday that he believed most doctors were responsible and well-intentioned prescribers, there remain a few who are little more than “drug dealers,” motivated by greed, who think they are immune because of a medical license. “For the very small number who are nothing more than drug dealers with stethoscopes, for those folks, we will come after you with every tool that we have available,” Cochran said. These statements came one day after federal indictments, designed to combat the opioid crisis and overprescribing, were unveiled against 60 defendants in six Appalachian states.

Thirty-two defendants were charged in Tennessee, including nine on the Middle Tennessee jurisdiction. On Thursday, Cochran and other federal officials made it clear that work wasn’t done. He said prosecutors had indicted defendants on all the charges they could support at this time, but that some were “barebones” because the investigations weren’t complete.

“The model we follow ... was to charge relatively quickly because of our concerns about patient safety,” Cochran said. “and it’s not necessarily the last word there will be on the subject.”

The Middle Tennessee cases announced this week included indictments against Dr. Darrel Rinehart, a Columbia doctor who moved to Indiana after at least four of his patients died form overdoses, and Dr. Timothy Abbott, a Nashville podiatrist who is accused of overprescribing for four years. Another indictment filed charges against three nurse pracitioners who work for PainMD, a Franklinbased pain clinic company that is accused of inflating it’s profits by pressuring patients into accepting unnecessary injections into their back.

Cochran said Thursday that the scope and variety of the indictments illustrated the commitment to combat the drug overdoses, which killed more than 70,000 people nationwide and 1,700 in Tennessee in 2017.

Brett Kelman is the health care reporter for The Tennessean. He can be reached at 615-2598287 or at brett.kelman Follow him on Twitter at @brettkelman.

“For the very small number who are nothing more than drug dealers with stethoscopes, for those folks, we will come after you with every tool that we have available.”

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