FTC Takes Action Against Medical Clinic and its Owner for Alleged Unsubstantiated Claims its Treatment Could Cure Addiction and Disease

The Department of Justice filed the case on the FTC’s behalf.

The proposed order settling the Commission’s complaint bars the physician and her AWAREmed clinic from making such purported unsupported claims and requires her to pay a $100,000 civil penalty.

“The opioid crisis claims lives and destroys communities all across the United States but especially in rural areas,” said FTC attorney Samuel Levine, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection.  “Doctors peddling phony promises should know that the FTC will use its strengthened authority from Congress to stop them from exploiting Americans struggling with addiction.”

The physician’s AWAREmed clinic is based in Johnson City, Tennessee, and previously was located in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

Since at least 2018, the complaint states, the AWAREmed defendants have advertised a range of treatments for patients suffering from addiction including substance use disorders from opioids to alcohol.  The FTC alleges other deceptive treatment advertisements for cancer and chronic diseases like Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease.

In their ads, the defendants allegedly described their clinic as the “Most Effective Medical Clinic Anywhere,” and claimed that it “Boasts a 98% Improvement Rate…Treating Just About…Anything,” including addictions to methadone and other drugs, alcohol, food, and gambling.

Despite being warned by FTC lawyers that making unsupported addiction treatment claims is unlawful, the defendants purportedly continued to claim without evidence that their treatment was “rapid, painless, effective, and safe,” and had better results in less time than 30-day treatment programs.

The defendants also purportedly used their website to promote their cancer treatments, claiming that patients would experience “exceptional results,” and that virtually all patients at any disease stage would improve moderately to significantly after treatment at the AWAREmed clinic.  In similar ads, the defendants repeated their claims of near-universal success for chronic diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, according to the complaint.

Finally, the FTC alleges that in 2017 and 2018, the physician appeared in nearly 100 brief TV segments hosted by reporters with Fox News’s Myrtle Beach affiliate, promoting AWAREmed in what appeared to be news interviews.  It was allegedly never disclosed, however, that some of those appearances were actually paid ads placed by the physician.

In addition to barring the defendants from violating the FTC Act and OARFPA, the proposed court order prohibits them from making the deceptive health claims alleged in the complaint, requires them to have competent and reliable scientific evidence for any health-related claims they make in advertising and marketing, and prohibits them from formatting ads in a way that may be interpreted as news or informational programing.  It also requires them to pay a $100,000 civil penalty.

The DOJ filed the complaint and order on behalf of the FTC in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee.

Contact the author to discuss how marketers and advertisers can comply with applicable legal regulations, including express and implied health product compliance guidance.

Richard B. Newman is an FTC defense and claim substantiation compliance attorney at Hinch Newman LLP.  

Informational purposes only. Not legal advice. May be considered attorney advertising.

Richard B. Newman

Richard B. Newman is a nationally recognized FTC advertising compliance, CID investigation and regulatory enforcemetn attorney. He regularly provides advertising counsel and represents clients in high-profile investigations and enforcement proceedings initiated by the Federal Trade Commission, state attorneys general, departments of consumer affairs, and other federal and state agencies with jurisdiction over advertising and marketing practices. Richard is also an ecommerce lawyer and spam defense attorney. His practice additionally focuses upon false advertising defense, data privacy, cybersquatting, intellectual property law and transactional matters relating to the dissemination of national advertising campaigns, including the gamut of affiliate marketing, telemarketing, lead generation, list management and licensing agreements. Richard advises clients on how to minimize the legal risks associated with digital marketing, email marketing, telemarketing, social media influencer campaigns, endorsements and testimonials, negative option marketing models, native advertising, online promotions and comparative advertising,

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