Federal prosecutors in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont are collaborating to crack down on medical providers who overprescribe or fraudulently provide prescription opioids, fueling the black market and the epidemic of drug overdoses endemic to northern New England.

Four additional federal prosecutors will be assigned to a task force dedicated to helping local and federal law enforcement bring criminal cases against doctors and medical providers who illegally prescribe opioids for profit or assist in the diversion of pharmaceuticals into the black market.

To identify doctors, clinics and providers who may be overprescribing or diverting drugs, prosecutors will work closely with data analysts who will comb through prescriber activity recorded in central monitoring databases operated by each state. The strike force will operate out of Concord, New Hampshire, and is modeled after an identical effort that began three years ago in the Appalachia region.

Following success there, federal officials selected New England for extra enforcement attention, said Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite Jr., who announced the program during a media briefing Wednesday.

“Maine’s opioid overdose death rate has skyrocketed, and law enforcement has identified the opioid epidemic as the number one issue officers face,” U.S. Attorney Darcie N. McElwee for the District of Maine, said in a statement. Nearly a quarter of drug overdose deaths in Maine in 2020 are attributed to pharmaceutical opioids, McElwee said.

“This strike force will provide vital resources to help fight a growing epidemic, and along with our partners, we will pursue any medical personnel who misuse their position to endanger lives through the overprescribing of opioids for their own financial gain,” she said.

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