Dallas, Texas - The Department of Justice’s Civil Division and the United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Texas announced an action Friday to stop two Texas doctors from unlawfully prescribing powerful opioids linked to abuse and diversion. To protect the public, the United States sought and the court granted immediate relief through a temporary restraining order.
In a civil complaint unsealed today in the Northern District of Texas, the United States alleges that Cesar B. Pena Rodriguez M.D., and Leovares A. Mendez M.D., were prescribing in violation of the Controlled Substances Act. According to the complaint, the defendants issued thousands of prescriptions without apparent regard for patient harm, including prescriptions for a combination of an opioid, a short-acting benzodiazepine, and a muscle relaxer – a dangerous and frequently-abused drug cocktail known as the “trinity.” The United States Attorney’s Office worked with the Consumer Protection Branch of the Justice Department’s Civil Division in this effort.
“With opioid addiction ravaging communities across the nation, we are going to fight against doctors who are handing out prescriptions like candy,” said U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas Erin Nealy Cox. “We are determined to stem the tide of the crisis and we will use all the legal authorities at our disposal -- both criminal and civil.”
“The prescribing patterns of the doctors in this case are extremely disturbing and present a significant threat to the community,” said Assistant Attorney General Jody Hunt for the Department of Justice’s Civil Division. “The Department of Justice will use every available tool to stop doctors who fail to uphold their legal obligation to prescribe controlled substances properly.”
The complaint alleges that Dr. Pena Rodriguez and Dr. Mendez issued numerous prescriptions without a legitimate medical purpose and outside the usual course of professional practice. Specifically, the complaint alleges that in the course of an investigation of the defendants by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the defendants repeatedly issued prescriptions for controlled substances, including hydrocodone, alprazolam, and tramadol, to undercover agents posing as prospective new patients in exchange for $250 cash payments. The complaint alleges that the defendants issued prescriptions despite performing only minimal or perfunctory medical evaluations, at best, during the visits. According to the complaint, the defendants sold medically unjustified prescriptions to undercover agents in all but one of 25 undercover visits.
“The DEA has teams of investigators specialized in finding negligence when writing perilous prescription, which can cause a harmful addiction or potential overdose,” said Special Agent in Charge Clyde E. Shelley Jr. of the DEA Dallas Field Division. “The DEA will investigate the doctors who conduct this kind of practice and continue to combat the opioid crisis.”
According to court documents that the United States filed with its complaint, the defendants’ troubling prescribing practices were widespread and raised multiple warning signs or “red flags” of abuse and diversion, such as patient overdoses and prescriptions issued to groups of related individuals as well as to individuals who traveled unusual distances to receive their controlled substances.
The action represents an innovative use of the Department’s civil enforcement authorities – a tactic amplified by the Attorney General’s Prescription Interdiction & Litigation (PIL) Task Force, which was formed in early 2018 to promote deployment of all available criminal, civil, and regulatory tools to reverse the tide of opioid overdoses in the United States.
Judge Karen Scholer of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas issued the temporary restraining order. Along with injunctive relief, the United States seeks civil monetary penalties.
The United States is represented by Northern District of Texas Opioid Coordinator Lindsey Beran and Assistant U.S. Attorney Sarah Delaney and Trial Attorneys Arturo DeCastro and Anwar Graves of the Justice Department’s Consumer Protection Branch. This investigation is being conducted by the DEA.
A complaint is merely an allegation and there has been no determination of liability.