Rachel Yasser to Lead the District of Maryland’s Opioid-Related Health Care Fraud Unit
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact ELIZABETH MORSE
www.justice.gov/usao/md at (410) 209-4885
Baltimore, Maryland –Acting United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Stephen M. Schenning announces the appointment of Rachel Yasser to lead the District’s project targeting opioid-related health care fraud. Yasser, 38, graduated from Columbia University in 2001 and Northwestern School of Law in 2004. She has been an Assistant U.S. Attorney in Maryland since 2008.
On August 2, 2017, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the formation of the Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit, a new Department of Justice pilot program to attack the opioid crisis that has ravaged communities across the country and has led to an epidemic of fatal overdoses. The unit will use data on the manufacture, delivery and sale of prescription medications to identify persons, including doctors, medical professionals and pharmacists, who further the opioid epidemic for financial gain. These individuals will be targeted for healthcare fraud and other federal charges.
As part of the program, the Department of Justice is funding twelve experienced prosecutors nation-wide who will focus exclusively on investigating and prosecuting healthcare fraud related to prescription opioids, including pill mill schemes and pharmacies that unlawfully divert or dispense prescription opioids. Maryland was one of twelve federal Districts selected to participate in the program.
In 2010, Maryland public health officials reported that 504 people had died from heroin or opioid overdoses. By 2015, that number had more than doubled, with 1089 people dead from heroin and/or opioid overdoses. These 1089 lost lives do not represent the totality of the problem, as many more persons suffer non-fatal overdoses. Additionally, for every life lost to heroin or opioid abuse, the families and communities of those lost are also impacted. The heroin/opioid problem is among the greatest, and most rapidly increasing, public health and criminal justice problems facing Maryland today.
As head of the Maryland program, Yasser will coordinate with investigators from the FBI, DEA and HHS, as well as state and local agencies, to analyze data that discloses which physicians are prescribing, and which pharmacies are dispensing, unusually large quantities of opioids. The data can also be analyzed to disclose other patterns, such as the number of physicians’ patients that have died within 60 days of an opioid prescription, the average age of patients receiving opioid prescriptions, and the geographical distribution of patients’ residences. The costs for these opioids are often charged to insurance companies or federally funded health insurance programs, charges that are fraudulent if the prescriptions lack medical justification.
The opioid epidemic encompasses not only prescription drug abuse but also increased use of drugs that were never in the legitimate medical supply system, such as heroin and imported fentanyl. According to data from the DEA, the explosion in the of use of heroin and fentanyl is closely related to the prescription drug abuse problem. The DEA reports that 80% of heroin addiction starts with prescription drug addiction. People addicted to prescription opioids such as Percocet or OxyContin often move on to heroin and fentanyl, which are less expensive and more potent. Doctor-run “pill mills” and pharmacies that are unlawfully diverting and dispensing prescription opioids manufacture the next generation of heroin and fentanyl users.
By focusing on opioid-related healthcare fraud, Yasser and her team of investigators and prosecutors will attack the root cause of the opioid epidemic in the District of Maryland.