Clinic facilities

Pinellas pain clinic prescribed medication inappropriately, resulting in 2 deaths, feds say

A federal court has issued a temporary restraining order preventing a Tarpon Springs pain clinic from prescribing medication based on accusations that the clinic illegally dispensed medication that resulted in two overdose deaths, according to the US Department of Justice.

Christopher and Patricia Ferguson, owners of Phoenix Medical Management Care Centers Inc., are named in a lawsuit filed in the Middle District of Florida in Tampa. The lawsuit accuses them of using the clinic under the guise of a nonprofit organization to evade Florida oversight and legal requirements.

Florida law states that a pain management clinic must be owned by a physician or group of physicians. However, non-profit pain management clinics are exempt. The complaint alleges that Christopher Ferguson used this loophole to run the clinic, despite having previously been convicted of drug trafficking. This allowed him to hire Dr. Vivian Herrero, a pediatrician without proper training, to treat chronic pain, according to court records.

The Fergusons claimed that “Phoenix physicians do not require any training or expertise in chronic pain management,” according to the complaint.

Christopher Ferguson continued to run the clinic even after he was arrested and charged with extortion twice earlier this year on charges he tried to force patients into sex acts by threatening to fire them from the clinic. clinic for failed drug tests.

Herrero wrote prescriptions for numerous patients, including the two who died of overdoses. Herrero often prescribed medication without performing a medical exam, according to court records.

A patient, whose address in court records is “DD”, received medication prescribed by Herrero monthly from July 2018 until January 2021, when he died of an overdose. Herrero reportedly prescribed five “psychotropic” drugs, including two opioids. There was no reason for such a high dose, according to court records. The complaint alleges that Herrero prescribed a dangerous combination of drugs and ignored obvious signs that DD was abusing them.

DD was found dead in his home on January 21, 2021. According to court records, empty bottles of hydromorphone and alprazolam, both prescribed by Herrero, were found next to his body.

Another patient, referred to as “MH,” began receiving similar high-dose opioid prescriptions from Herrero in 2020 despite a minimal physical exam and MRI not substantiating a need for medication, the complaint states. It also states that MH showed signs of an elevated heart rate and high blood pressure which were not treated by Herrero, as well as signs that MH was abusing the medications he was prescribed.

MH was found dead at his home on May 8, 2020, of an overdose, according to court records. Three bottles of hydromorphone were found near the body, including one that had been prescribed to her two days before she was found dead. According to the dosage instructions mentioned in the complaint, there should have been 82 pills left in the bottle, but there were only three left.

The complaint alleges that Herrero profited from writing these illegitimate prescriptions while working in Phoenix. She is described in the complaint as an “imminent danger”.

Christopher Ferguson was arrested in January and again in June for extortion. During the June arrest, Ferguson was also charged with sexual assault according to Pinellas County jail records.

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An affidavit alleges that after a patient failed a drug test, Ferguson threatened to stop writing him prescriptions and reporting the test to authorities unless he engaged in sexual acts with him. Arrest affidavits from the Tarpon Springs Police Department accuse him of similar acts with multiple patients.

According to Pinellas County Jail records, Ferguson was released from jail after both arrests after posting $10,000 bond each time. The charges are still pending, according to Pinellas County court records. Ferguson pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Herrero was arrested Friday on seven counts of aiding and abetting before the fact in connection with the extortion charges filed against Ferguson, according to a Tarpon Spring Police Department affidavit. She also faces one count of violating the prescribing physician’s act. She was released on Friday after posting $5,000 bail.

A message left at the clinic on Tuesday seeking comment was not returned.