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Nevada part of effort targeting illegal dispensing of drugs

Nevada law enforcement officials on Thursday issued search warrants for five medical professionals suspected of illegally prescribing and dispensing opioids.

Officials announced the search warrants — issued as part of federal and state agencies’ Operation Hypocritical Oath, a play on the Hippocratic oath taken by doctors — at the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Las Vegas office Thursday afternoon.

Nevada officials seized $35,000 in cash, nine firearms and several thousand rounds of ammunition while issuing the search warrants Thursday morning. Across the three states, officials seized $3 million in assets and 236,620 counterfeit pills, according to DEA Assistant Special Agent in Charge Daniel Neill.

Nicholas Trutanich, the U.S. attorney for Nevada, said the operation is aimed at stemming “the illegal dispensing of opioids by dirty doctors armed with a lab coat and prescription pads.”

The operation, which includes more than a dozen Nevada agencies, as well as the DEA’s Los Angeles division, targeted medical professionals in Nevada, California and Hawaii, Neill said.

“This is an unprecedented event to be able to get simultaneously everyone working together — from the state and local agencies, all the way to the federal agencies — working together to combat this issue,” Neill said.

Three search warrants were issued in Clark County, Neill said. No arrests had been made in Nevada, and Trutanich declined to say when the search warrants could yield charges.

“A search warrant is just that; it’s a step in the investigatory process, and the people in those medical facilities, doctors included, are presumed innocent until proven guilty,” Trutanich said. “It’s a step in the right direction for investigating this monumental problem.”

Trutanich said that when the Justice Department two years ago identified Nevada as one of 12 jurisdictions that were a hot spot for the opioid epidemic, the department gave the U.S. attorney’s office in Nevada funding for a prosecutor dedicated to opioid issues. Ten medical professionals in the state have been charged, convicted or sentenced since.

Metropolitan Police Department Deputy Chief Christopher Darcy said the agencies working together is a “force multiplier” to combat opioid addiction and law-breaking doctors.

Deaths from the potent painkiller Fentanyl are on the rise in Arizona, California and Oregon, though Nevada hasn’t seen a statistically significant increase in recent years, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report released Dec. 21.

Of the 70,237 reported overdose deaths nationwide in 2017, 47,600 were linked to opioids, the report said. Nevada’s death rate went unchanged between 2016 and 2017 at 13.3 per 100,000 people, with the prescription opioid-related death rate decreasing from 8.9 per 100,000 to 8.7.

“Although we are making headway, we’ve got a long ways to go,” Neill said Thursday.

Contact Katelyn Newberg at knewberg@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0240. Follow @k_newberg on Twitter.

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