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Pain center must cease writing prescriptions after two overdose deaths tied to clinic

Restraining order was granted a week after the Justice Department filed complaint against doctor and owners for issuing opioid prescriptions without medical exams.

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A federal judge has granted a temporary restraining order to stop a Tampa area pain clinic from prescribing or distributing controlled substances including opioids.

Phoenix Medical Management Care Centers Inc. in Tarpon Springs and three individuals at the clinic, including a doctor, have been accused by the U.S. Justice Department of “unlawfully issu(ing) controlled substance prescriptions in violation of the Controlled Substances Act.” The complaint alleges two patients died after getting prescriptions for opioids from the doctor and that the drugs contributed to those deaths.

The department is seeking civil penalties and a permanent injunction against the defendants, Dr. Vivian Herrero, a pediatrician, Christopher Ferguson and Patricia Ferguson, according to a statement from federal officials. The Fergusons, who are married, own the clinic which is organized as a nonprofit.

U.S. District Judge Steven Merryday granted the restraining order Monday, Oct. 17.

In an emergency motion filed Oct. 12, the day after the justice department brought the complaint against Phoenix, prosecutors called the center “a pill mill disguised as charity with a convicted drug trafficker as a proprietor and a pediatrician as a prescriber.”

The complaint alleges the Fergusons established Phoenix as a nonprofit “for the express purpose of hiring unqualified physicians to write high quantities of controlled substance prescriptions under the guise of a legitimate pain management practice.”

Christopher Ferguson, according to the complaint, “promised physicians easy money for little work” and made sure patients could get prescriptions without a diagnosis or physical exam.

Christopher Ferguson, prosecutors say, was previously convicted of drug trafficking and served three years in state prison. He is currently awaiting trial on extortion charges stemming from his conduct at Phoenix.

According to the emergency motion and to the complaint, Herrero has been writing prescriptions for high doses of opioids and other substances “in dangerous combinations” without evaluating patients’ needs.

In the emergency motion, prosecutors say Herrero went to work at Phoenix in 2018 because she needed money but has no specialized training or certifications allowing her to treat adults with chronic pain or addiction.

“When a physician like Dr. Herrero treats patients or prescribes drugs in a manner so clearly outside of the physician’s specialty, the physician is very likely issuing prescriptions outside the usual course of professional medical practice and not for a legitimate need,” prosecutors say in the emergency motion.

According to the complaint, at least two patients suffered fatal drug overdoses and several others have suffered non-fatal overdoses while taking prescriptions written by Herrero.

No one answered the phone nor responded to a voicemail at Phoenix Monday.

According to its most recent 1099 tax return posted on Guidestar, the company reported revenue of $499,871 in 2019, up from $244,860 the previous year.


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