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Former Cerebral CEO says investors pushed prescribing of stimulants and used him as a "scapegoat"

Online mental health concerns
Former patient alleges mental health app Cerebral mishandled her case 07:24

The former CEO and founder of online mental health care giant Cerebral sent a letter to the company Friday demanding access to "books and records" that he says could reveal whether the startup violated the law, setting the stage for a potential lawsuit. 

Kyle Robertson was ousted from the company in May as scrutiny increased over Cerebral's prescribing of stimulants like Adderall, which is used to treat attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and is considered a controlled substance. Earlier this year, the Department of Justice launched an investigation of allegations it over-prescribed controlled substances.

In the letter obtained by CBS News, Robertson says he was pressured by the company's investors to sell more stimulants and believes his ouster was an effort to "scapegoat" him as these investigations arose.  

In an emailed statement to CBS News, a Cerebral spokesperson said: "These claims against Cerebral and its board, are categorically untrue, defamatory, and baseless in law and in fact. We will defend ourselves vigorously against these meritless allegations."

In his letter, Robertson says one board member told him "the easier you make it for people to get stimulants, the better for the business and its customers." And an investor allegedly told Robertson's partner the company's "ADHD business is crushing and it's a cash cow ... Kyle's got to push this thing further."

According to the letter, Cerebral did not initially prescribe controlled substances — which are tightly controlled by the Drug Enforcement Administration due to their addictive nature — and only did so at the urging of investors, not Robertson. He claims that the Cerebral board "sought to capitalize" on the pandemic's temporary pause of the Ryan Haight Act, which waives an in-person requirement to prescribe controlled substances. 

While the Ryan Haight Act will continue to be paused as long as the Pandemic Health Emergency remains in place, Cerebral stopped prescribing controlled substances to new patients earlier this year. 

After Robertson's removal, the company's chief medical officer Dr. David Mou was elevated to CEO by the board even though, according to the letter, Mou was "responsible for the very prescription policies the government is currently investigating." 

In an exclusive interview this June, Mou told CBS News' Anna Werner he was "confident that our clinical programs are very, very good. And if anything, they're above standard of care."

Documents obtained by CBS News show Cerebral leadership knew last fall about numerous risks facing the company, ranging from "clinical safety issues," "hires (who) may not … meet our hiring standards," and staff "practicing with expired (or) suspended license(s)." The document also noted that "duplicate accounts" created a "patient safety issue" because it meant "multiple controlled substances (could) be overprescribed to the same individual."

Asked about the risks outlined in that document, Mou said, "I rest by the fact that I really trust our clinical program. As chief medical officer, I came in with the mandate of bringing in quality and safety, and I did just that." 

Robertson's letter also alleges that during his time as CEO he was "subject to several instances of anti-LGBT and homophobic remarks and communications from Directors, Observers and current officers." 

In their statement, a Cerebral spokesperson said, "The specific claims being made against our executives and board run counter to our culture of championing diversity and inclusion, and are the antithesis of what we stand for as a company."

CBS News reached out to investors Access Industries, WestCap Group, Softbank and Oak HC/FT, whose employees were named in the letter. Spokespeople from WestCap Group and Access Industries told CBS News they had no comment beyond the statement issued by Cerebral which is reflective of their views. Softbank and Oak HC/FT did not respond to CBS News' request for comment. 

Correction: This story has been updated to remove quotes from the phrase sell more stimulants, which was intended to paraphrase a sentiment in the Robertson letter, but is not a direct quote.

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