Consumer Health Digest #11-44
Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
December 29, 2011
Consumer Health Digest is a free weekly e-mail newsletter edited by Stephen Barrett, M.D., with help from William M. London, Ed.D., M.P.H. 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.
British pharmacy chain withdraws homeopathic claims from shelves. Boots, a major UK pharmacy chain, has stopped displaying information about the purposes of the homeopathic products they sell. The action was taken after the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) upheld a complaint that Boots's point-of-sale advertising contained prohibited information. This advertising, found in many stores, consisted of a book of flip cards that listed indications, symptoms, and homeopathic products. The MHRA ruled that the products were not licensed with indications because the MHRA's Simplified Rules Scheme for homeopathic products prohibits stating the purposes for which they can be used. [Boots told to stop making medical claims for pills with no active ingredient. The Nightingale Collaboration Web Site, December 2011] The MHRA's proposed policy document, Homeopathic medicines: Guidance for advertising, is posted on Homeowatch.
Blog examines whether pharmacists should sell homeopathic products. Scott Gavura, who operates Science-Based Pharmacy, is a Canadian pharmacist who believes that it is unethical for pharmacists to sell, promote, or encourage the sale or use of homeopathy. [Homeopathy: To sell or not to sell? Pharmacists weigh in, Nov 30, 2011] The posted comments from other pharmacists include:
- "Selling a preparation which is known not to work would be exactly the same . . . . as the same Pharmacist going out the back, filling a bottle with water from the tap and selling it to the customer. . . . If you don't think that there is an ethical problem, give it to the customer for free, after all it cost next to nothing to prepare."
- "I've seen Oscillococcinium on the shelf at Shoppers Drug Mart, right next to 'real' cold and flu medications. There was no indication (that an unsuspecting member of the public would spot) that there was any difference between the homeopathic sugar pills and the real medicines. If I didn't know better, I might well pick up the pseudo-medicine ('no side effects!') and waste my money. Worse, if my cold got better right away, as many colds do, I might become convinced that it worked and seek out homeopathic treatment for more serious illnesses in future. That, I think, is the real danger in pharmacists selling homeopathy: it is a gateway drug to more serious rejection of real medical treatment. It's a slippery slope form harmless cold non-remedies to quack cancer treatments."
Google Health closing. Google Health, which enabled users to post detailed medical records on password-protected pages, is shutting down. Microsoft Health Vault still offers this service free of charge and has arranged for easy online transfer for Google Health users. The stored information can include the patient's medical history, current medications, and hospital discharge summaries, as well as graphic images such as electrocardiograms and x-ray pictures. This information could prove handy in an emergency or when a traveler is admitted to a hospital far from home.
Alleged stem scammers charged. Three men have been arrested for their participation in a scheme to manufacture, distribute and sell to the public stem cells and stem cell procedures that were not FDA-approved: Francisco Morales, of Brownsville, Texas; Alberto Ramon, of Del Rio, Texas; and Vincent Dammai, of Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. Lawrence Stowe, of Dallas, Texas, also charged in relation to this case, is considered a fugitive and a warrant remains outstanding for his arrest. The defendants allegedly conspired to commit mail fraud and unlawfully distributed stem cells derived from umbilical cord blood. [Federal Indictments Lead to Arrests in Stem Cell Case, U.S. Attorney's Office news release, Dec 28, 2011] According to the indictments:
- The defendants distributed and used stem cells produced from umbilical cord blood to treat persons suffering from cancer, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), multiple sclerosis (MS) and other serious diseases.
- From 2007 to 2010, Morales, who falsely represented that he was a licensed physician in the United States, operated the Rio Valley Medical Clinic in Brownsville, Texas, but would travel to Mexico to perform the stem cell procedures on his patients.
- Stowe, who sometimes pretended to be a doctor, operated The Stowe Foundation and Stowe Biotherapy Inc., through which he promoted and marketed stem cells and other unapproved drug and biological products for the treatment of cancer, ALS, MS and Parkinson's disease.
- The stem cells referenced in the indictment were created and manufactured from umbilical cord blood obtained from birth mothers who were patients of Ramon—a licensed midwife who operated The Maternity Care Clinic in Del Rio, Texas.
- Ramon sold the cord blood to Global Laboratories, in Scottsdale, Arizona, which sent the tissue to Dammai—a professor of pathology and laboratory medicine in Charleston, S.C.
- Without obtaining approval, Dammai used university facilities to create stem cells that were later sold by Global Laboratories.
- The defendants received more than $1.5 million from patients suffering from incurable diseases.
Last April, CBS's "60 Minutes" aired a hard-hitting undercover report about the defendants' activities. [21st century snake oil: "60 Minutes" cameras expose medical con men who prey on dying victims. CBS News, April 18, 2010] Two indictments are posted on Casewatch, one for Morales, Ramon, and Dammai, and the other for Stowe and Morales.
This page was posted on December 29, 2011.