Feds charge 600 in opioid fraud that bilked $2B from government and insurers

The Justice Department on Thursday announced charges against 601 people, including 76 physicians, for allegedly taking part in multi-billion-dollar profit-making schemes involving opioid painkillers.

The arrests come as the result of what the department called the largest heath care fraud takedown ever in the U.S., with Attorney General Jeff Sessions calling the crimes "despicable" in a statement.

"In many cases, doctors, nurses and pharmacists take advantage of people suffering from drug addiction in order to line their pockets," Sessions stated.

The charges in part involve billing government programs Medicare and Medicaid along with private insurers for medically unneeded prescription drugs, resulting in losses of more than $2 billion, according to the Justice Department and the Department of Health and Human Services.

The government also announced charges against 165 doctors, nurses and other medical professions, saying they had helped worsen the nation's opioid crisis by participating in the unlawful distribution of the painkillers.

More than 42,000 Americans died from opioid overdoses in 2016, according to the latest numbers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.