U.S. Attorney Duane "DAK" Kees on Tuesday said he's had enough with doctors who perpetuate opioid abuse and overdoses in Arkansas.
"I’m tired of it — I’m tired of listening to it, I’m tired of hearing stories, I’m tired of meeting people with stories and I’m tired of my own family members dealing with this. We are going to deal with it, and this office has many, many tools, both criminally and civilly. We’re going to do it," said Kees, who oversees the Western District of Arkansas.
Kees at a Tuesday news conference said he intends to use the "full effect and force" of the Western District office to prosecute doctors who excessively prescribe opioid painkillers with no medicinal purpose. He and Little Rock Drug Enforcement Administration Assistant Special Agent In Charge Justin King pointed to the estimated 104 opioid prescriptions per 100 people in the state as reason for his aggressive approach to the issue.
King also estimated 130 people in the United States die from an opioid-related overdose each year.
Kees' comments came in light of the Tuesday arrest of Dr. Lonnie Parker, who is accused of prescribing 1.2 million pills, including opioids, to 1,508 patients in Texarkana. Parker is suspected of nine federal charges of intentionally distributing controlled substances without effective prescriptions, according to court records.
Kees in November 2018 worked with federal and local law enforcement to execute federal warrants on Dr. Donald Hinderliter in Barling and Dr. Cecil Gaby in Fort Smith, who over two years allegedly prescribed nearly 2 million pills, including opioids.
"No matter if they are a doctor, a pharmacist, a pharmaceutical company, I don’t care. If you’re profiting from this epidemic, I want you to know one thing — it is a new day in the Western District of Arkansas. This kind of conduct will not be tolerated. We will use the full effect and force of this office to come after you, and we will get you," Kees said.
King in light of Kees' remarks said "most doctors" responsibly prescribe opioid painkillers, especially in light of recent measures to prevent overprescribing. This leads patients who can no longer get opioid painkillers from doctors to turn to the streets for heroin and fentanyl, he said.
This has led federal officials to try to divert patients before they become addicted, King said. One way to do this, he said, is by investigating and prosecuting doctors who overprescribe.
"It’s all a criminal act, and it’s all preying on people who have an addiction and people who are willing to pay money," he said.
Kees on Tuesday said there will be "many more" measures from his office against opioid overprescribing in the future.
"I hope this is a wake-up call," Kees said of the Tuesday arrest.