Federal Court Issues Temporary Restraining Order Prohibiting Tampa-Area Clinic from Distributing Opioids and Other Prescription Drugs
A federal court issued a temporary restraining order prohibiting a Tampa-area clinic, its operators and a doctor from administering, dispensing or distributing any controlled substances, including issuing prescriptions for opioids, the Department of Justice announced.
In a complaint filed on Oct. 11 and unsealed Oct. 14, the United States alleges that the individual defendants, Dr. Vivian Herrero, Christopher Ferguson and Patricia Ferguson, used Phoenix Medical Management Care Centers Inc., a Tarpon Springs, Florida, pain clinic, to unlawfully issue controlled substance prescriptions in violation of the Controlled Substances Act. The complaint alleges that two Phoenix patients died soon after receiving opioid prescriptions issued by Dr. Herrero, and further alleges that drug toxicity played a role in those deaths.
“Medical clinics that facilitate the unlawful use of opioids and other controlled substances cannot continue to operate,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Brian Boynton of the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “The Department of Justice will use all available tools to stop the illegal distribution of potentially dangerous prescription drugs.”
“Medical professionals who abandon their oath to protect patients from harm and violate the law compromise the health and safety of patients and must be held accountable,” said U.S. Attorney Roger Handberg for the Middle District of Florida. “The illegal distribution of opioids continues to cause great harm to people in our communities. We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to put an end to this devastating crisis.”
“As communities across Florida are facing the devastating effects of the opioid epidemic, we need to be doing everything we can to prevent prescription opioid misuse,” Special Agent in Charge Deanne L. Reuter of the DEA Miami Field Division. “The DEA Miami Field Division remains steadfast in our mission of working with our law enforcement partners to pursue those who jeopardize the safety and health of our communities.”
The complaint alleges that the Fergusons operate Phoenix Medical, where Dr. Herrero, a licensed pediatrician, writes prescriptions for powerful opioids and other drugs without a legitimate medical basis and despite obvious signs of abuse or diversion. The complaint further alleges that Phoenix operates with unqualified physicians and issues prescriptions to patients with only limited interaction or evaluation. According to the complaint, Christopher Ferguson previously was convicted on state drug trafficking charges, and he currently faces state extortion charges based on alleged conduct at Phoenix.
U.S. District Judge Steven Merryday granted the temporary restraining order in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida. The pending complaint seeks civil penalties as well as a permanent injunction against the defendants.
DEA’s Tactical Diversion Squad in the Tampa District Office is conducting the ongoing investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Lindsay S. Griffin and Kelley Howard-Allen for the Middle District of Florida and Trial Attorneys Thomas S. Rosso and Scott B. Dahlquist of the Justice Department’s Consumer Protection Branch are handling the case.
The claims made in the complaint are merely allegations that the United States must prove if the case proceeds to trial. All defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.