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US officials use early warning system in opioid fight

PITTSBURGH — A nationwide group of federal law enforcement officials are working to stop doctors who prescribe opioids to patients who don’t need them.

They are armed with new access to a broader array of prescription drug databases, Medicaid and Medicare figures, coroners’ records, and other numbers compiled by the Justice Department.

The department is providing the data to the Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit, which draws together officials in 12 regions. It shows which doctors are prescribing the most, how far patients travel to see them, and whether any have died within 60 days of getting a prescription.

Authorities have been going after so-called pill mills for years, but the new approach brings additional federal resources to bear.

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‘‘This data shines a light we’ve never had before,’’ said federal prosecutor Robert Cessar. ‘‘We don’t need to have confidential informants on the street to start a case. Now, we have someone behind a computer screen who is helping us. That has to put [doctors] on notice that we have new tools.’’

Rod Rosenstein, deputy US attorney general, said the Justice Department will consider going after any lawbreaker as it seeks to bring more cases and reduce the number of unwarranted prescriptions.

ASSOCIATED PRESS