Is there a community, family, or workplace that hasn’t been impacted by addiction? For people struggling with substance use disorders, including those devastated by the opioid epidemic, claims made by the AWAREmed clinic must have seemed like – to quote the company’s ads – the “Light at the End of the Tunnel.” But according to a proposed FTC settlement, AWAREmed made a host of deceptive treatment claims, in violation of the FTC Act and the Opioid Addiction Recovery Fraud Prevention Act. What’s more, the complaint charges that some appearances on local newscasts by the doctor who owned the clinic were falsely portrayed as objective informational programming, when they were really paid ads. And if those actions didn’t inflict enough injury, wait until you hear about the promises the defendants broke to people dealing with cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease.
According to the FTC, the AWAREmed clinic and owner Dr. Dalal A. Akoury (who is named as a defendant) claimed that virtually every patient treated for any condition at the clinic improved under Defendant Akoury’s care. The defendants stated that for people battling addiction, “AWAREmed Clinic boasts a 98% Improvement Rate” and provides “Rapid, Painless Detox and Recovery.” A YouTube video featured a purported “2 Year Methadone Addict” who experiences “Painless Withdrawal in 1 Day.”
The defendants trotted out that same “98% Improvement Rate” promise in pitches that targeted people with cancer, including those whose disease had advanced to Stage 4. The FTC says the defendants doubled down on the deception by further claiming, “Virtually everyone, at any stage of illness or condition, improved moderately to significantly after visiting our clinic. This includes remission of illnesses considered by most to be ‘incurable’ such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and terminal cancers.”
In addition to advertising on the clinic’s website, in social media, and on YouTube, Defendant Akoury appeared in multiple segments on Fox-affiliated WFXB in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Each segment featured Defendant Akoury being interviewed by a reporter. According to the FTC, the segments appeared to be objective news interviews or public information spots. What were they really? At least some were paid ads – a fact that neither Akoury, the interviewer, nor the station disclosed to viewers.
The five-count complaint charges the defendants with violating the FTC Act and the Opioid Addiction Recovery Fraud Prevention Act, a statute that specifically prohibits unfair or deceptive acts or practices with respect to any substance use disorder treatment service or product. The proposed settlement includes a $100,000 civil penalty and strong injunctive provisions designed to protect consumers in the future. In addition, the defendants must notify past and present patients who received treatment for addiction, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, or Parkinson’s disease about the FTC lawsuit. They also must notify people who have expressed interest in scheduling treatment for those conditions.
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