The Drug Enforcement Agency announced Wednesday the results of Operation Faux Pharmacy, a three-state initiative which targeted 26 pharmacies suspected of illicitly distributing drugs, resulting in the seizure of 494,000 pills and about $2.8 million.
The operation, led by the DEA's Los Angeles Field Division, involved simultaneous raids of pharmacies in southern California and Nevada, and a nearly concurrent raid in Hawaii. The raids involved support from around 60 people from out-of-state.
The raids resulted in four pharmacists voluntarily surrendering their licenses; others will face civil or criminal proceedings in the coming months.
The primary target of the operation was a crackdown on illicit distribution of opioids. According to search warrants issued prior to the operation, the seized drugs include opioids like oxycodone, codeine, and hydrocodone, as well as generic forms of medications like Xanax and Soma. Approximately four-fifths of west coast heroin users start their path to addiction with prescription opioids.
"DEA is fighting the opioid crisis on multiple levels, using every resource available to identify reckless doctors and rogue businesses that fuel addiction in our neighborhoods and communities," said Acting DEA Administrator Robert W. Patterson. "We will continue to identify and hold accountable the most significant drug threats, using every tool at our disposal—administrative, civil, and criminal—to fight the diversion of controlled substances."
William Bodner, a deputy special agent in charge with the L.A. Field Division, told the Free Beacon that Faux Pharmacy was more than a year in the making. The project's initial goal, he explained, was to go beyond busts of doctors to target the original source of illicit prescription drugs.
"We decided to look at the root of the prescription drug problem," Bodner said. "Where are the prescription drugs coming from?"
There are between 4,500 and 5,000 pharmacies in the area targeted by the operation. DEA Officers aggregated data from their own drug tracking, combining it with insurance and billing information provided by the department of Health and Human Services, state-level prescription drug monitoring programs, and tax information provided by pharmacists to the IRS.
Agents looked for common indicators of fraud, including pharmacies that had filled exceptionally high numbers of oxycodone prescriptions, excessive or frequent opioid purchases, multiple customers with identical addresses, or customers traveling extreme distances to specific pharmacies despite access to more convenient options. Using these patterns, DEA officers narrowed the nearly 5,000 pharmacies first to 90 and then 26 with unusual patterns of behavior.
That year's worth of work has led to the seizure of more than 600,000 pills, the majority of which were picked up on Wednesday.
Bodner said that this data-driven approach will serve as a framework for similar stings in other states in the near future.
"Part of the mindset here is they can take this model back and do it in other states, do a similar type of operation. It starts at the front end, a lot of statistical analysis, and then after that point it gets into our standard investigative techniques," Bodner said.
Bodner expects that these operations will help clamp down on pharmacists otherwise looking to get into the business of illicit distribution.
"I think it'll have a significant impact, because the pharmacists are now on notice because the federal government is looking at them to make sure that they are ethical and they are following the rules of dispensing," he said. "If they are, we applaud them, and we have no issue. It's those that are not that we're taking a close look at and will be coming after."