Consumer Health Digest #03-27

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
July 8, 2003


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.


Alleged psychic breaks promise to undergo testing. Sylvia Browne, a best-selling author who claims to communicate with the dead and to intuit people's diagnoses, has broken at least three promises to undergo testing of her alleged psychic abilities. More than two years have passed since she first agreed to undergo the One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge offered by the James Randi Educational Foundation to anyone who claims to have paranormal, supernatural, or occult power. For several years, Browne has been promoted through appearances on talk-show by by Montel Williams, Larry King, and others who have neither investigated nor appear to care whether her health advice causes people to delay appropriate treatment or undergo needless tests to look for nonexistent problems that she "sees." Montel has hosted Browne more than 70 times since 1995. [Farha V. Sylvia Browne: Psychic Guru or Quack? Quackwatch, July 1, 2003]


Chiropractor who killed patient facing prison for insurance fraud. Joanne M. Gallagher, D.C., who practiced for close to 20 years in Hazleton, Pennsylvania, was convicted of insurance fraud in connection with the death of a 30-year-old epileptic woman whom she treated with cranial therapy. Court documents indicated that the patient died of severe seizures after following Gallagher's advice to stop taking her anticonvulsive medication. The fraud involved submitting insurance claims falsely describing "meningeal balancing" as spinal manipulation. After learning that her fatal advice had been tape-recorded, Gallagher pled guilty to one count of mail fraud under an agreement that she surrender her chiropractic license in 45 days and agree not to resume practice unless cleared to do so by a federal court judge. Sentencing is expected to take place in September. The crime carries a maximum sentence of 5 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Chirobase has posted a detailed report.


Lawsuit prolongs Life Chiropractic College accreditation. Life University and the Council on Chiropractic Education (CCE) have reached an agreement to resolve the issues surrounding the accreditation status of the University's chiropractic program. Last year, the CCE refused to renew Life's accreditation, citing serious problems with diagnostic instruction and faculty oversight of students in the university's clinics. After more than 80% of its chiropractic students left, Life filed suit and a federal judge issued a temporary order that the accreditation be continued. The agreement continues Life's accredited status and provides for a special (but undisclosed) accreditation process scheduled for completion by the end of January 2005. [Shafer M. Life U., CCE reach agreement regarding school's accreditation, Marietta Daily Journal, June 25, 2003]


Ravi Devgan may lose medical license. On April 30, 2003, the Discipline Committee of the College of Physicians & Surgeons of Ontario concluded that Ravi Devgan, M.D. had committed acts of professional misconduct in that he:

The hearing was prompted by complaints from relatives of three cancer patients who died shortly after Devgan started them on treatment with Carnivora, a product made from an extract of the Venus Flytrap plant. Press reports indicate that two of the three patients paid $30,000 in advance for 24 treatments and the other paid $280 at each treatment session and Devgan refused to refund the any portion of the money. [Abata G. Doctor loses license after promising cancer cure. MD who charged $30,000 in advance can continue to practice pending appeal. Toronto Globe and Mail, July 2, 2003] On June 26, the College ordered Devgan's license to be revoked, but he has appealed the verdict and can continue to practice until the courts rule.

In 1993, Devgan settled a charge of professional misconduct before the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, for having a conflict of interest in his dealings with a patient. He received a recorded reprimand and was fined $5,000. In 1996, he faced the criminal courts over the same matter and was convicted of defrauding the patient. At the same trial, he was convicted of making a false statement by misrepresenting himself as part owner of a restaurant in order to get a $98,500 loan. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has issued an import alert listing Devgan as having prescribed Laetrile, Life Crystals, and other unapproved drugs whose importation has been banned by the FDA. [Priest L and others. MD's unorthodox practice extends beyond clinics. Globe and Mail, April 16, 2001]


FTC restrains HeartBar marketers. United Therapeutics Corporation and its subsidiary Unither Pharma, Inc., of Silver Spring, Maryland have agreed to settle FTC charges that they made deceptive advertising claims for their HeartBar brand products, which are edible bars or powders whose ingredients include 3 to 6 grams of L-arginine, soy isoflavones extract, Vitamins A, B-6, B-12, C and E, niacin, folate, iron, and calcium. The settlement prohibits further unsubstantiated claims that these or other L-arginine based products reduces the risk of developing heart disease, reverses damage to the heart, reduces or eliminates heart disease patients' need for surgery and medications, and substantially decreases leg pain in people with cardiovascular disease. The settlement also bars the defendants from making any unsubstantiated claims about health benefits, performance, or efficacy of any food, medical food, or dietary supplement intended for the treatment, cure, or prevention of cardiovascular disease. [FTC alleges Maryland companies lack support for claims that Heartbar is effective against cardiovascular diseases. FTC news release, June 12 2003]


"AIDS breakthrough" marketers plead guilty. Ives Health Company, of Claremont, Oklahoma, and its founder/president have been convicted of marketing of a bogus AIDS remedy. On May 15, M. Keith Ives pled guilty to securities fraud, wire fraud, and conspiracy to defraud the FDA and to distributing an unapproved new drug. On May 28, the company pled guilty to conspiracy to defraud the FDA and to distributing an unapproved new drug. Sentencing is scheduled for September 9. In February 2001, to pump up the price of its stock, Ives and two associates (Michael Harrison and James Kost) issued press releases and Internet postings claiming that their product "T-Factor" would increase the T-cell count of people with HIV infections and had been tested by its inventor, "Dr. Robert Slayton-Bedeen," in Jakarta, Indonesia. The company also spoke of a "Java Project" conducted in association with the World Health Organization. The criminal complaint charged that no "Java Project" existed and that the World Health Organization was not aware of the product, its inventor, or any testing. The Securities and Exchange Commission suspended trading, obtained a civil injunction in 2002, and revoked the company's registration early this year.


New book blasts "attachment therapy." Jean Mercer, Ph.D., Larry Sarner, and Linda Rosa, R.N., have co-authored a book about the death of 10-year-old Candace Newmaker, who was suffocated during a so-called treatment session. The book explains why attachment therapy is senseless and describes the struggle to ban it. Attachment Therapy on Trial: The Torture and Death of Candace Newmaker is available from Amazon Books for $44.95.


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This page was posted on July 8, 2003.