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RX Network of South Florida, LLC Revocation of Registration

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On October 10, 2003, the then-Acting Deputy Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Start Printed Page 62094issued an Order to Show Cause and Immediate Suspension of Registration to RX Network of South Florida, LLC (Respondent), notifying it of an opportunity to show cause as to why DEA should not revoke its DEA Certificate of Registration, BR7139238, as a retail pharmacy, and deny any pending applications for renewal or modification of registration pursuant to 21 U.S.C. 823(f) and 824(a)(4), for reason that Respondent's continued registration would be inconsistent with the public interest. The Order to Show Cause and Immediate Suspension of Registration further informed Respondent of the suspension of its DEA Certificate of Registration, as an imminent danger to the public health or safety pursuant to 21 U.S.C. 824(d).

The Order to Show Cause and Immediate Suspension of Registration alleged in relevant part, that Respondent, owned and operated by Vincent Chhabra, Sabrina Faruqui and Carleta Carolina, dispensed over 19,300,000 various controlled substances through orders of customers who had accessed an Internet Web site set up by Respondent. Customers of Respondent would complete a questionnaire set up on the Web site, which solicited information about the customer, including the type of medication desired. After the customer's credit card was processed, the questionnaire was forwarded to one of several “staff” physicians who then issued prescriptions for the controlled substances being ordered. The prescriptions were then sent electronically to Respondent, which then dispensed the controlled substances to customers through the mail. The “staff” physicians, as well as Respondent's customers, were located in various states throughout the United States and the physicians had no interaction with customers before prescribing the controlled substances.

The Order to Show Cause and Immediate Suspension of Registration also alleged that on April 21, 2001, DEA issued a policy statement, Dispensing and Purchasing Controlled Substances over the Internet, 66 FR 21,181 (2001). The policy statement delineated certain circumstances under the which DEA deems prescribing over the Internet to be unlawful, including, inter alia, the circumstance when a controlled substance is issued or dispensed without a bona fide doctor/patient relationship. The policy further explained that completed questionnaires, later reviewed by a doctor hired by the Internet pharmacy “could not be considered the basis of a doctor/patient relationship.” Id., at 21,182-21,183. In further support of DEA policy, the Order to Show Cause and Immediate Suspension of Registration cited the final order revoking the DEA registration of a practitioner who had participated in an Internet pharmacy scheme similar to that of Respondent. See Rick Joe Nelson, M.D. 66 FR 30,752 (2001).

The Order to Show Cause and Immediate Suspension of Registration further referenced correspondence during November 2002 and February 2003 between the United States Department of Justice and the then-attorney of Vincent Chhabar. In those letters, Mr. Chhabra's attorney was reminded that his client had been notified of the foregoing DEA policy and requested to shut down its Internet pharmacy operation.

The Order to Show Cause and Immediate Suspension of Registration further referenced an order of emergency suspension issued by the Florida Department of Health (the Department) against Respondent on May 30, 2002, as well as administrative complaints issued by the Department's Pharmacy Board against Respondent and one of its pharmacists. While both actions stemmed from allegations that Respondent operated an Internet pharmacy, the Order to Show Cause and Immediate Suspension of Registration referenced the Pharmacy Board's March 31, 2003, assessment of a $48,000 fine as the only sanction.

The Order to Show Cause and Immediate Suspension of Registration further alleged that on seven separated occasions during September and October 2003, DEA diversion investigators and agents from the United States Food and Drug Administration conducted a series of undercover operations with the objective of obtaining controlled substances from Respondent through its Internet operation. The operation resulted in law enforcement officers receiving quantities of Bontril (a Schedule III controlled substance) and phentermine (a Schedule IV controlled substance) from Respondent after filling out Internet questionnaires with fictitious names and fictitious weights. The law enforcement officers had no contact with the prescribing physicians, who issued prescriptions from locations in Florida, Missouri and Pennsylvania. However, there were no allegations in the Order to Show Cause and Immediate Suspension of Registration addressing the status of Respondent's authorization to handle controlled substances in the State of Florida.

By letter dated November 3, 2003, Respondent, through counsel, requested a hearing in this matter. The request included various arguments challenging the basis for the Order to Show Cause and Immediate Suspension of Registration. On November 10, 2003, Presiding Administrative Law Judge Mary Ellen Bittner (Judge Bittner) issued an Order for Prehearing Statements.

On November 21, 2003, in lieu of a prehearing statement, counsel for DEA filed Government's Motion for Summary Judgment and Motion to Stay the Filing of Prehearing Statements. In support of its motions, the Government referenced a letter dated November 20, 2003, in which Respondent's counsel had notified the Florida Board of Pharmacy of the following: “Without the ability to dispense controlled substance[s], a crucial element of operating a pharmacy, [Respondent] can no longer remain viable, and must relinquish its pharmacy permit.” According to the Government, the letter indicated Respondent no longer had a pharmacy license in the State of Florida and, as a result, further proceedings in the matter were not required. Attached to the Government's motion was the aforementioned letter from Respondent's counsel to the Florida Board of Pharmacy.

In response to the Government's motion, Respondent argued in relevant part, that the Order to Show Cause and Immediate Suspension of Registration had not alleged that it did not have a current state pharmacy license. Respondent further argued that its lack of such a license now rendered these proceedings “legally moot” and that the Administrative Law Judge should deny the Government's Motion for Summary Disposition and issue an order dismissing the case as moot.

On December 17, 2003, Judge Bittner issued her Opinion and Recommended Decision of the Administrative Law Judge (Opinion and Recommended Decision). As part of her recommended ruling, Judge Bittner rejected Respondent's contentions concerning the Government's failure to initially allege lack of state authority, holding the relevant question was Respondent's status to handle controlled substances at the time of the Opinion and Recommended Decision, not at what stage of the proceedings that status may have changed. She further noted Respondent had never surrendered its DEA Certificate of Registration and that the surrender of its state pharmacy license did not render this proceeding moot.

Judge Bittner granted the Government's Motion for Summary Disposition, finding Respondent lacked authorization to handle controlled Start Printed Page 62095substances in Florida, the jurisdiction in which it is registered with DEA. In granting the Government's motion, Judge Bittner further recommended that Respondent's DEA registration be revoked and any pending applications be denied. According to the letter transmitting this matter to the Deputy Administrator, no exceptions were filed by either party to the Opinion and Recommended Decision.

The Deputy Administrator has considered the record in its entirety and pursuant to 21 CFR 1316.67, hereby issues her final order based upon the findings of fact and conclusions of law as hereinafter set forth. The Deputy Administrator adopts, in full, the Opinion and Recommenced Decision of the Administrative Law Judge.

The Deputy Administrator finds that Respondent currently possesses DEA Certificate of Registration RB7139238 and is registered to handle controlled substances in Florida as a retail pharmacy. The Deputy Administrator's review of the November 20, 2003, letter from Respondent's counsel to the Florida Board of Pharmacy reveals that after receiving the order of immediate suspension of its DEA registration, Respondent surrendered its pharmacy permit to the Board of Pharmacy. It appears from this action that Respondent surrendered its authority to handle controlled substances in Florida and, as a result, lacks a necessary prerequisite for DEA registration. There is no evidence before the Deputy Administrator that Respondent's pharmacy permit has been returned or reinstated or that Respondent is currently licensed in Florida as a retail pharmacy. Accordingly, it is reasonable to infer that Respondent is without authorization to handle controlled substances in that state.

DEA does not have statutory authority under the Controlled Substances Act to issue or maintain a registration if the applicant or registrant is without state authority to handle controlled substances in the state in which he conducts business. See 21 U.S.C. 802(21), 823(f) and 824(a)(3). This prerequisite has been consistently upheld. See Prescriptionline.com, 69 FR 5583 (2004); Graham Travers Schuler, M.D., 65 FR 50,570 (2000); Wingfield Drugs, Inc., 52 FR 27,070 (1987). The agency has also maintained this standard in matters involving the immediate suspension of a DEA Certificate of Registration under 21 U.S.C. 824(d). See Chemical Dependence Associates of Houston, 58 FR 37505 (1993).

Here, Respondent is currently not licensed to handle controlled substances in Florida, the state where it maintains its registration with DEA. Therefore, Respondent is not entitled to maintain that registration. Because Respondent is not entitled to a DEA registration in Florida due to its lack of state authorization to handle controlled substances, the Deputy Administrator concludes it is unnecessary to address whether Respondent's registration should be revoked based upon the public interest grounds asserted in the Order to Show Cause and Immediate Suspension of Registration. See Deanwood Pharmacy, 68 FR 41662 (2003); Nathaniel-Aikens-Afful, M.D., 62 FR 16871 (1997); Greenbelt Professional Pharmacy, 57 FR 55000 (1992).

Accordingly, the Deputy Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration, pursuant to the authority vested in her by 21 U.S.C. 823 and 824 and 28 CFR 0.100(b) and 0.104, hereby orders that DEA Certificate of Registration, BR7139238, issued to RX Network of South Florida, LLC, be, and it hereby is, revoked. The Deputy Administrator further orders that any pending applications for renewal or modification of such registration be, and they hereby are, denied. This order is effective November 22, 2004.

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Dated: October 5, 2004.

Michele M. Leonhart,

Deputy Administrator.

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[FR Doc. 04-23715 Filed 10-21-04; 8:45 am]

BILLING CODE 4410-09-M