The Federal Trade Commission took action under the Opioid Addiction Recovery Fraud Prevention Act (OARFPA), suing Dr. Dalal A. Akoury and a set of companies she controls that operate as AWAREmed Health & Wellness Resource Center, a medical clinic, for making a wide range of false or unsupported claims for addiction treatment services, cancer treatment services, and the treatment of other serious conditions. The Department of Justice filed the case on the FTC’s behalf.
The proposed order settling the Commission’s complaint bars Dr. Akoury and her AWAREmed clinic from making such 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 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.”
Dr. Akoury’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. Other deceptive treatment advertisements for cancer and chronic diseases like Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease.
In their ads, the defendants 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 the FTC that making unsupported addiction treatment claims is unlawful, the defendants 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 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.
Finally, the FTC alleges that in 2017 and 2018, Dr. Akoury 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 never disclosed, however, that some of those appearances were actually paid ads placed by Dr. Akoury.
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 Commission vote authorizing the staff to file the complaint and proposed order was 4-0. The DOJ filed the complaint and order on behalf of the FTC in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee.
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