On Friday, the U.S. Department of Justice announced a massive nationwide takedown that led to hundreds of charges in a $1.4 billion telemedicine fraud.

The damages include $29 million in COVID-19 healthcare fraud, $133 million connected to substance abuse treatment facilities, or “sober homes,” and $160 million connected to other healthcare fraud and illegal opioid distribution schemes across the country.

In its announcement, the DOJ said that it has charged 138 individuals, including 23 physicians, for involvement in these schemes. Sixteen of these medical professionals were charged with opioid-related fraud cases.

The telemedicine cases began from previous prosecutions launched in 2019 and 2020. In these cases, it was alleged that Medicare was being billed for fraudulent genetic cancer testing, and telemedicine executives paying doctors and others to order unnecessary durable medical equipment, diagnostic testing and medications. These were done without interacting with patients or with a brief conversations with ones they had never met or seen.

Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Polite Jr. of the DOJ’s Criminal Division said that the agency was "stopping corrupt medical professionals in their tracks." According to Polite, the prosecution of those involved will take place across a third of the 93 U.S. Attorney’s Offices across the nation.

“The charges announced today send a clear deterrent message and should leave no doubt about the department’s ongoing commitment to ensuring the safety of patients and the integrity of healthcare benefit programs, even amid a continued pandemic,” said Polite in a DOJ statement announcing the arrests.

Anne Milgram, the administrator for the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), excoriated those charged as preying "on our most vulnerable ... those who are most susceptible to promises of relief, recovery or a new start."

“Holding to account those responsible for healthcare fraud and diversion of prescription drugs is a priority for DEA,” said Milgram.

DOJ’s action is an escalation of the U.S. government’s pursuit of corrupt individuals in the medical profession and drug companies contributing to the opioid crisis across the country. Polite pointed out that overall drug overdose deaths reached 90,000 in 2020.