A federal judge entered a preliminary injunction today barring a Utah physician from issuing prescriptions for controlled substances during the pendency of a civil enforcement action filed by the government.
In a complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Utah, the government alleges that Dr. Sean Ponce, a medical doctor licensed in Utah, unlawfully issued controlled substance prescriptions in violation of the Controlled Substances Act. The complaint alleges that Dr. Ponce catered to customer requests for opioid and other controlled substance prescriptions, at times using text messages to arrange the exchange of cash for prescriptions. The complaint alleges that Dr. Ponce used office space in Cottonwood Heights, Utah, to meet with cash-paying customers to maintain the guise of a medical practice despite the routine lack of legitimate examinations, medical findings supporting the prescriptions, or bona-fide doctor-patient relationships. U.S. District Judge David B. Barlow entered a stipulated preliminary injunction that the United States filed along with the complaint. The complaint seeks a permanent injunction and civil penalties.
“The opioid addiction epidemic devastates communities,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian M. Boynton of the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “The Department of Justice will take action against those who harm patients and their families by unlawfully distributing controlled substances behind a veneer of medical legitimacy.”
“The U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Department of Justice are committed to protecting Utahns from medical professionals who fuel the opioid epidemic and violate the public trust,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Andrea T. Martinez for the District of Utah. “We will employ every available resource to keep our communities safe and to maintain accountability in the medical community.”
“This investigation is a prime example of an unscrupulous physician furthering the opioid crisis in America,” said Special Agent in Charge Deanne Reuter with the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) Denver Field Division. “When a doctor cares more about lining his pockets than the health and welfare of his patients, the whole community suffers. Whether transnational drug traffickers selling fentanyl-laced pills or medical providers violating the Controlled Substances Act, DEA will not falter in our pursuit of those who contribute to the U.S. addiction problem.”
According to the complaint, Dr. Ponce prescribed excessive doses of powerful opioids, often in dangerous combination with other controlled substances. Some of those prescriptions allegedly went to multiple individuals purportedly residing together at the same addresses. The complaint alleges that Dr. Ponce routinely issued early refills for prescriptions, failed to make objectively legitimate diagnoses, did not provide meaningful evaluation or treatment, and engaged in a pattern of selling prescriptions for powerful opioids and other controlled substances. The complaint also alleges that Dr. Ponce violated the False Claims Act by causing claims to be submitted by customers who filled his prescriptions at pharmacies covered by federal health care programs.
The investigation is being conducted by the DEA’s Tactical Diversion Squad in the Salt Lake City District Office.
The case is being handled by Assistant U.S. Attorney Joel Ferre of the District of Utah and Trial Attorneys Yolanda D. McCray Jones and Scott B. Dahlquist of the Civil Division’s Consumer Protection Branch.
The claims made in the complaint are merely allegations that the United States must prove if the case proceeds to trial.