New state-fed working group will target illegal opioid suppliers

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STATE HOUSE — Attorney General Maura Healey will announce the formation of a new state-federal coalition to meet regularly to share information and cooperatively prosecute prescribers, pharmacists and others who illegally supply opioids, according a senior official in the attorney general’s office.

Healey plans to detail the partnership at a 1:30 p.m. press conference Thursday in her office with the local heads of the F.B.I., the Drug Enforcement Administration and the inspector general’s unit within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The group plans to hold its first meeting after the press conference.

Over the past nine months, Healey’s Medicaid Fraud Division has obtained indictments against at least two physicians, including one from Ludlow and another from Hyannis, for allegedly illegally prescribing opioids with no legitimate medical purpose to patients, some with a history of substance abuse.

The Charlestown Democrat has talked recently about changing the culture of prescribing, and last week travelled to Washington D.C. where she spoke to the surgeon general and the White House’s drug czar about increased collaboration and support from the federal government to help Massachusetts fight the opioid epidemic.

The Healey official said the working group will meet regularly to share information about potential criminal activity, referrals and common investigations, and collaborate when possible to reduce duplicative efforts.

Auditor Suzanne Bump is involved in the effort and previewed the coalition’s announcement during an appearance on Boston Herald Radio on Wednesday morning.

“Along with the attorney general, we are creating a working group to try to tackle one aspect of the opioid crisis and that is the identification of doctors who are a source of many of the pills that are out on the street,” Bump said.

Bump said her office will use its data analytics capabilities to “look for patterns in existing data so that we can help identify who the bad guys are.”

Using data from MassHealth, she said, her office can identify doctors who prescribed opioid medication more than 10 times in a three-year period to someone living 75 miles or more from their office.

By joining forces with state and federal law enforcement agencies, Bump said, the auditor’s office hopes to gain access to new sources of data to expand its analysis.

Wednesday’s meeting of the working group is intended to “figure out who has what information, how can we bring it together properly, confidentially and all of that and how can we make a difference on just this one part of the opioid problem.”

— Written by Matt Murphy and Colin A. Young

Copyright State House News Service