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Houston-based pill mills moved 23 million opioid pills, feds say

HOUSTON – Thirty-eight people were charged Wednesday as part of an investigation of pill mills in the Houston area that moved about 23 million opioid pills, federal prosecutors said.

Ryan Patrick, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Texas, said the mills were made up of a network of medical professionals and pharmacists. People seeking the controlled substances would pay cash for their prescription and then take it to a pharmacy in the network to have it filled.

Department of Justice Criminal Division Assistant Attorney General Brian Benczkowski said one Houston-area doctor charged in the case prescribed about 2 million opioid pills in the span of just 15 months. Another doctor charged in the case prescribed 800,000 doses of oxycodone in the span of 20 months, Benczkowski said.

VIDEO: Feds discuss arrests and case

"(Those charged) also include the owner and pharmacist in charge at a pill mill pharmacy that has in 2019 allegedly dispensed the second-highest amount of oxycodone 30 mg pills of all pharmacies in the state of Texas, and the ninth highest amount in the nation," Benczkowski said.

The 'Houston cocktail'

Benczkowski said some of the 23 million oxycodone, hydrocodone and carisoprodol pills were not only on the streets of Houston, but were also found as far away as Boston.

"The equivalent of an opioid dose for every single adult living in the state of Texas," Benczhowski said.

Patrick said the three medications make up what has become known as the "Houston cocktail."

New task force

Benczkowski said the raids were part of a joint effort among several agencies known as the Health Care Fraud Strike Force.

Editor's note: The number of people arrested was orignally reported by officials to be 41 people. After a review of DOJ documents, that number was adjusted to 38.


About the Authors:

Aaron Barker

Aaron Barker has been a senior digital editor at KPRC 2 since 2016. As a meteorologist, he specializes in stories about the weather. He has covered Hurricane Harvey, the Astros first World Series win, the Santa Fe High School shooting, the ITC fire and Tropical Storm Imelda.