Consumer Health Digest #02-03

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
January 15, 2002


Consumer Health Digest is a free weekly e-mail newsletter edited by Stephen Barrett, M.D., and cosponsored by NCAHF and Quackwatch. It summarizes scientific reports; legislative developments; enforcement actions; news reports; Web site evaluations; recommended and nonrecommended books; and other information relevant to consumer protection and consumer decision-making.


Oregon Attorney General hits electrodermal testing. Oregon Attorney General Hardy Meyers has settled a lawsuit against Monte Kline, Shirley Hancuff, and Pacific Health Centers, under which the defendants have agreed not to misrepresent that electrodermal testing (EDT) can diagnose food allergies, "weak organs," certain viruses, lead levels in children, and various other health problems. The stipulated judgment also calls for the defendants to pay $15,000 for costs and to offer refunds available to individuals whom they have tested during the past three years. [Attorney General Myers obtains judgment against Pacific Health Center, Inc. News release, Oregon Dept. of Justice, Jan 14, 2002.] EDT is a bogus procedure claimed to detect "imbalances" in the flow of "electromagnetic energy" through the body. The devices are fancy galvanometers that reflects how hard the operator presses a probe against the patient's skin. No such device can be legally marketed in the United States for diagnostic or treatment purposes. Kline has a "PhD in Nutrition & Wholistic Health Sciences" from Columbia Pacific University, a nonaccredited correspondence school that was ordered to cease operations in California last year.


Health Canada initiates ephdra product recall. Health Canada has asked manufacturers, distributors and importers to stop selling ephedra-containing products marketed for appetite suppression, weight loss promotion, "metabolic enhancement," increased exercise tolerance, body-building effects, euphoria, increased energy or wakefulness, or other stimulant effects. The agency acted after concluding that such products can cause strokes, heart attacks, heart rate irregularities, seizures, psychosis and death [Health Canada requests recall of certain products containing Ephedra/ephedrine. Health Canada Advisory 2001-67, June 14, 2001]


Consumer advice on insurance disputes. The Kaiser Family Foundation and Consumers Union have produced a guide to handling disputes with insurance plans [Lieberman T and others. A Consumer Guide to Handling Disputes with Your Private or Employer Health Plan, November 2001] The project was done after a study found that 48% of privately insured adults under age 65 had had a problem with their plan during the year before the survey was taken. The guide includes information on how to navigate internal plan grievance procedures as well as the external review procedures established by law in about 40 states. The 70-page report is accessible online in both text and PDF versions.


Brazen homeopathic responses to bioterrorism. No homeopathic product has ever been proven effective for preventing or treating any severe infection. However, the National Center for Homeopathy (NCH) has formed a "Crisis Intervention Team" whose stated purposes are to inform the public and to "influence politicians, mainstream health providers, agencies, and funding sources to rapidly explore the potential benefit of bringing homeopathic medicine into prominence as an efficacious and cost-effective aid in all aspects of the consequences of terrorism." The NCH Web site also states: "We want to provide thoughtful, reasoned, responsible information that will help you to restore and maintain your health in the best possible way including use of conventional medicines alongside homeopathy when safety makes that prudent." Homeopathy is based on a 200-year-old delusional system which claims that (a) substances that produce symptoms in a healthy person can cure ill people with similar symptoms; and (b) the more dilute the remedy, the greater the effect. Although articles on the NCH site suggest that homeopathic products might be effective in preventing and treating the diseases associated with bioterrorism, the site correctly notes that it would be illegal for any homeopathic manufacturer to make any such claim. The American Association of Homeopathic Pharmacists offers similar double-talk on its Web site.


FTC seeking to end "Fat Trapper" claims. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission has asked a federal district court to order Enforma Natural Products, Inc., Andrew Grey, and Michael Ehrman to show cause why they should not be held in civil contempt for violating a May 2000 final consent order prohibiting unsubstantiated claims for weight loss products. Since the entry of the order, the defendants have continued to advertise that "Fat Trapper blocks fat from foods; Exercise In A Bottle works to burn calories "even while resting"; and that consumers would "never, ever, ever, ever have to diet again." The products are marketed together as "The Enforma System." The May 2000 consent order also called for payment if $10 million in consumer redress. The current FTC action seeks excision of the trade names "Fat Trapper," "Fat Trapper Plus," and "Exercise In A Bottle"; recall of the products, and disgorgement of all profits since the consent order was issued. [FTC seeks civil contempt liability for defendants' violations of court order. FTC news release, January 10, 2002]


FTC issues new health fraud brochure. The Federal Trade Commission, with help from the FDA, has issued a brochure called 'Miracle' Health Claims: Add a Dose of Skepticism. The brochure, which is posted to the FTC Web site, lists the following signs of fraudulent health claims:


Suit over birth control ad withdrawn. Abortion opponents have withdrawn a lawsuit alleging that the National Abortion Federation (NAF) violated the Illinois Deceptive Trade Practices Act by running a "deceptive" advertisement about mifepristone (Mifeprex). The ad's text had stated, "You have the freedom to choose. And now, you have another safe abortion choice." The suit alleged that it was misleading to describe mifepristone as "safe" without mentioning its side effects. The plaintiffs have been barred from re-filing the suit and were ordered to pay all court costs [National Abortion Federation emerges victorious from lawsuit against its public education campaign on Mifepristone (RU-486). NAF news release, Jan 9, 2002] Mifepristone, commonly called RU-486, is an antiprogesterone drug that can prevent pregnancy if taken within 72 hours after unprotected intercourse and can induce abortion if taken within the first 6 weeks of pregnancy. When prescribed with prostaglandin, it is more than 95% effective in ending the pregnancy and has a low incidence of side effects. FDA information about mifepristone is posted at http://www.fda.gov/cder/drug/infopage/mifepristone/default.htm.


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