TAMPA - United States attorney general Eric Holder announced the arrests Friday of nine Bay-area doctors and two Bay-area pharmacists as part of Operation Pill Nation II.
The doctors and pharmacists were among 22 people for the illegal distribution of prescription pills.
The doctors arrested were: Aimee Martin, Bradenton; Sanjeev Grover, Tampa; John Gianoli, St. Petersburg; Ronald Heromin, Tampa and Miami; Ihab Barsoum, Pasco County; James Shelburne, Tampa; Edward Mosley, Bradenton and Brandon; T.J. McNichol, Brandon and Debra Roggow, Lee County.
Fifteen people were also indicted and acccused of being involved in a conspiracy to obtain prescription pills illegally in Tampa and then transport them to Kentucky.
Operation Pill Nation I (which occurred in February) and Operation Pill Nation II were the largest investigations of their kind in Florida history, said Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Administrator Michele Leonhart.
Holder, speaking in downtown Tampa, called prescription drug addiction the "fastest growing drug problem in the country."
He said prescription pill abuse was responsible for 40,000 deaths nationwide and $200 billion in healthcare costs annually.
He also admitted Florida is the epicenter of the problem, citing statistics indicating oxycodone-related deaths in the state have jumped 345 percent from 2005 to 2010.
"Here in Florida, the problem has reached crisis proportions," Holder said.
Holder said targeting the drug supply chain is one way law enforcement can combat the crisis. He also lauded changes to Florida law, utilizing a new drug database and not allowing doctors to dispense prescription drugs on-site.
Holder and Florida attorney general Pam Bondi admitted they have seen a spike recently in applications to become a pharmacy. They believe drug pushers are trying to find loopholes that allow them to continue dispensing prescription pills.
They are trying to combat this by denying applications from those unfit to operate a pharmacy.
Holder also said prevention, education and treatment must play a role in trying to curb the epidemic.