Medicare prescription drug plans should refuse payments for popular painkillers when they suspect patient abuse, Vice President Biden announced Tuesday as part of the government’s more extensive effort to combat fraud and lower the deficit.

Vice President Biden said that Tuesday’s announcement demonstrates “the administration’s continued commitment to cutting waste and protecting taxpayers.”

Both the vice president and Deputy Attorney General James Cole said that in 2011, the Department of Justice recovered over $5.6 billion in total fraud, and of the $5.6 billion recovered, over $2.9 billion was in health care fraud alone, according to a statement.

The Department of Health and Human Services said that their primary impact to the government’s waste-cutting effort has been in the area of patient abuse and fraud of prescription drugs under Medicare Part D. The agency said that patients sometimes “doctor shop,” visiting multiple doctors to get multiple prescriptions for OxyContin, Percocet and other painkillers and narcotics..

In 2008, The Government Accountability Office found that “170,000 Medicare beneficiaries received prescriptions from five or more” doctors for drugs that are frequently abused, like OxyContin and Percocet, and while not all of these are fraudulent cases, some are. Patients either abuse the medicine themselves or, in some cases, sell the extra drugs.

Much of the $148 million in prescription drug costs incurred in 2008, were paid for by the government.

"Providers now have to go through tougher screening procedures before they can start billing Medicare, and we're giving investigators new tools to start identifying suspicious claims,” said Kathleen Sebelius , the HHS Secretary. "We've also released new rules that give states the capability to recover improper Medicaid payments. We project that's going to save $2 billion over the next five years, with nearly a $1 billion going back to the states."

The DOJ has recovered $15 billion in total fraud since 2009, and of the total $8.4 billion was in health care fraud alone. As a next step in the government’s campaign to crake down Medicare fraud, HHS will issue new guidance to aid insurance companies “use every tool at their disposal to prevent fraud,” and direct companies to hold off on payment in situations where fraud is suspected.

OxyContin and Percocet make up the fifth most filled class of prescription drugs in Medicare, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and in 2008 around 15,000 Americans died from a record number of overdoses, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in November.

About one in 20 Americans, ages 12 and older, have used prescription painkillers non-medically, according to a recent CDC analysis, and the problem of prescription painkiller overdoes have reached epidemic proportions, with the number of fatal overdoses in 2008 becoming three times more than in 1999.

HHS said that nearly $3 billion in healthcare fraud has been recovered by the government in 2011.