Consumer Health Digest #02-18

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
April 30, 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.


Medical Letter criticizes echinacea studies. The Medical Letter on Drugs and Therapeutics is skeptical about reports that echinacea is more effective than a placebo in decreasing the severity or duration of cold symptoms. Its consultants believe that the "positive" studies have not been well designed and that:

There is no convincing evidence that echinacea decreases the severity or shortens the duration of an upper respiratory infections. As with other dietary supplements, the purity and potency of these products is unknown. Allergic reactions, including anaphylaxis, have been reported. [Echinacea for prevention and treatment of upper respiratory infections. Medical Letter 44:29-30, 2002]


Podiatrists plead guilty in $30 million Medicare scheme. A federal judge has accepted the guilty pleas of Drs. Michael Brumer and Lawrence Klein,who conspired to take kickbacks and falsely billed Medicare and private insurance carriers for surgery and X-rays while providing routine care like toenail clipping and footwashing. The pair supervised four podiatric clinics in New York City that employed more than a dozen other podiatrists. Most victims of the fraud included poor, elderly, and minority city residents.Brumer and Klein face a maximum of 20 years in prison, restitution, and a fine of $250,000. Eight other podiatrists have pleaded guilty in the scheme and several more are awaiting trial. Brumer has also surrendered his license to practice podiatry. In the 1980s, he and Klein had their licenses suspended for one year for "practicing podiatry fraudulently and for gross negligence and incompetence." [Kelley T. 2 podiatrists plead guilty in $30 million scheme to defraud Medicare and take kickbacks. The New York Times, April 4, 2002, B4]


American Dental Association compares dental materials. The American Dental Association has published charts comparing the advantages and disadvantages of the materials used in fillings, crowns, bridges, and inlays. In recent years, there has been a marked increase in the development of materials made of ceramic and plastic, which mimic the appearance of natural teeth and are more esthetically pleasing. But the strength and durability of traditional materials (gold, base metal alloys, and amalgam) still make them useful, particularly in the back of the mouth where they must withstand the extreme forces that result from chewing. Amalgam, produced by mixing mercury and other metals, is still the most commonly used filling material. Although mercury by itself is classified as a toxic material, the mercury in amalgam is chemically bound to other metals to make it stable and therefore safe for dental applications. Compared to the rest, it is durable, easy to use, and inexpensive. The charts plus additional information are posted on Quackwatch.


Maryland anti-amalgam suit dismissed. A U.S. District Court Judge has dismissed a lawsuit seeking to prohibit the dental board from enforcing any rule or policy that "prevents, limits or intimidates" dentists from discussing "the controversy over amalgam" with patients. The suit was an attempt by supporters of "mercury-free dentistry" to block the board's efforts to protect consumers from inappropriate removal of amalgam fillings. The judge stated that although a dentist who is disciplined would have the right to court review, the preemptive suit was too vague to provide a cause of action. [Berthold M. Maryland amalgam suit dismissed. American Dental Association news release, April 5, 2002]


Last of five Ritalin-based lawsuits withdrawn. Plaintiffs have withdrawn a spurious class-action suit filed in New Jersey against the American Psychiatric Association, the patient-support group Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD), and Ritalin's manufacturer (Novartis). The suit charged that the defendants had illegally conspired to promote the drug for treating children with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Similar suits were dismissed or withdrawn earlier in California, Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico. [Hausman K. Last of Ritalin-based lawsuits against APA comes to a close. American Psychiatric News, April 5, 2002]


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This page was revised on May 1, 2002.