The U.S. attorney’s office announced today that Dr. Richard Johns, 49, of Little Rock and 18 others had been indicted by a federal grand jury in a conspiracy to distribute oxycodone in Lonoke, White and Pulaski counties. Johns had been charged earlier in Lonoke County on similar offenses.

The investigation began after detectives began investigating an overdose death in November 2014. The sheriff’s office enlisted help from the Drug Enforcement Administration.

According to a federal news release, investigators learned that co-conspirators would supply names and birth dates and Johns would write prescriptions without examining or even meeting those for whom the prescriptions were written. The tablets were obtained at local pharmacies and then sold for $30 each. Several co-conspirators have acknowledged working with Johns since 2011.

U.S. Attorney Chris Thyer said Johns actions made him no different than a “common, street-level drug dealer on the street” and he would be treated as such.  “As a society we have granted certain health care professionals the right to prescribe and use highly addictive drugs to treat their patients. When that right is abused, we will aggressively pursue those health care professionals as the criminals that they are.”

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Feds have engaged in a regional campaign against illegally diverted prescription drugs, known as Operation Pilluted, since January 2014. In May, the DEA announced two indictments charging 46 people — including doctors, pharmacistrs and nurses — with illicit drug distrubtion in Central Arkansas. In all, six indictments have charged 113 people, including five doctors.