In the largest investigation of prescription drug abuse in U.S. history, the U.S. attorney’s office in northern Virginia, near Washington, D.C., convicted 170 people of selling, prescribing or ingesting painkillers in the last 8 years, with 10 more scheduled to plead guilty in coming weeks, says the Washington Post. The investigation, Operation Cotton Candy, has snared seven doctors, 11 nurses, and a county prosecutor. Yet for all the effort, prescription drug abuse continues to worsen throughout the region as demand for painkillers rises among teenagers and others.
“We’re seeing remarkable increases in Percocets sold on the street, a tremendous increase in Vicodin. Oxy is off the charts,” said Loudoun County, Va., Sheriff’s Deputy Cuno Andersen. The investigation has been criticized by patient advocates, who say Cotton Candy targets doctors prescribing legal drugs to people in chronic pain. Some question whether the eight-year probe — which has involved more than 50 prosecutors and employs 15 to 20 full-time FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration agents and local police officers — is worth the time. “It’s an enormous waste of government resources,” said Ronald Libby, a University of North Florida political science professor and author of “The Criminalization of Medicine: America’s War on Doctors.” He argued that law enforcement “can’t make a case for any kind of prescription drug epidemic.”