Federal law requires prior in-person evaluations before a physician can provide telehealth services. The federal government declared a COVID-19 public health emergency, essentially suspending this rule. Following this suspension, ketamine telehealth providers and other virtual telehealth providers popped up all over the country. In all likelihood, the emergency declaration will end soon, leaving the industry in limbo. And to make matters worse, the federal government may be paying close attention to controlled substance telehealth providers.
Over the last few days, the Department of Justice reportedly initiated an investigation of Cerebral, a telehealth provider. The DOJ also apparently hit Cerebral with a grand jury subpoena. As The Verge reports:
Mental health startup Cerebral is under investigation by the US Department of Justice over its prescribing of controlled substances like Adderall and Xanax. The company received a grand jury subpoena asking for documents from the US Attorney for the Eastern District of New York on May 4, Insider first reported.
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The company’s advertising and prescribing practices have been under scrutiny by medical professionals, regulators, and social media platforms over the past few months. It pushed ads to Meta and TikTok linking ADHD to obesity, which the platforms pulled for being misleading. Experts said other ads overstated the benefits of ADHD medications and tied vague symptoms to the condition. Nurse practitioners working for Cerebral told The Wall Street Journal they felt pressure to prescribe ADHD medication after a short video call.
First, the feds have spent tons of resources going after alleged over-prescribers in recent years, spurred in large part by the opioid crisis. Those resources will now go after telehealth providers. And depending on the ketamine telehealth provider, doing so may not be as difficult to the extent they have large online presences and engage in aggressive marketing.
On that note, the federal government is scrutinizing telehealth marketing services. This isn’t news per se, but keep in mind that many ketamine telehealth providers also advertise on social media or in other online media (even if social media platforms regulate/prohibit these ads). Anything that they say is in the public record. As the saying goes, what you say can and will be used against you.
Also in terms of the public record, the government was apparently influenced by a former executive’s lawsuit alleging improper over-prescription. The former executive appears to claim that the company had 2,000 duplicate addresses – what the suit claims to be hallmark evidence of duplicate prescription. This is important (1) because it shows again that dirty laundry can lead to prosecutions, and (2) because if true, the government may believe that Cerebral at least should have had reason to suspect foul play. All of this can be true for ketamine telehealth providers as well.