By Marco Bello, Maria Alejandra Cardona and Sarah N. Lynch
MIRAMAR/WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Federal law enforcement agents raided a Miami-area pharmacy on Tuesday after investigators uncovered evidence the establishment might be operating the largest opioid pill mill in Florida, according to a source familiar with the investigation.
A videographer and a Reuters photographer on Tuesday witnessed more than a dozen federal agents, including agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Health and Human Services (HHS) inspector general’s office, executing a search warrant at Healthplus Pharmacy in Miramar, Florida.
FBI agents were also involved in Tuesday’s search, the source told Reuters.
The pharmacy, which has been in business since at least 2006, according to HHS records, marks the latest target in the Justice Department’s ongoing efforts to crack down on the illegal diversion of prescription painkillers, which have helped fuel the nation’s opioid epidemic.
The U.S. opioid crisis has caused more than 500,000 overdose deaths over the past two decades, including more than 80,000 in 2021 alone, according to government data.
The court-approved search warrant for Healthplus was obtained based on probable cause that the pharmacy is running the largest pill mill in the state for Oxycontin, a highly addictive painkiller, the source told Reuters, speaking anonymously because the investigation is still not public.
A pill mill is a reference to an illegal operation, such as a pharmacy or doctor’s office, that regularly prescribes prescriptions for inappropriate or non-medical reasons.
Investigators believe at least some of the prescriptions at issue in the probe have been routed through Healthplus by doctors who are not really treating the patients and that the pills are then diverted to the streets, the person said.
The source said the pharmacy works with several wholesalers to get its supply of pills, which are believed to be authentic versions of the drug, including one in Florida as well as several others in different states.
In recent years the Justice Department has aggressively pursued efforts to prosecute medical professionals to combat opioid prescription abuses, and it has created several strike forces to target illegal prescriptions.
State and federal public records show Healthplus Pharmacy is owned or run by Eghosa Uhunmwango and Richard Osaiyuwu.
Earlier in the morning on Tuesday, Reuters witnesses saw law enforcement agents also execute search warrants at both their publicly-listed addresses in Miramar.
Neither man could be reached for comment.
(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch in Washington and Marco Bello and Maria Alejandra Cardona in Miramar)