Consumer Health Digest #01-09

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
February 26, 2001

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.

Braswell story heating up. On his last day as U.S. President, Bill Clinton included A. Glenn Braswell among the 140 felons whom he pardoned. (The pardon was for Braswell's 1983 conviction.) Pardons normally require demonstrated good conduct for a substantial period of time after the criminal sentence is completed. Braswell's longstanding mail-order scams hardly fit that description. Many major news outlets have reported that he is under investigation by the FDA, FTC, Internal Revenue Service, and several state attorneys general and that a federal grand jury in Los Angeles is investigating him for money laundering and tax evasion. As the scandal broke, dozens of reporters began trying to understand why Clinton pardoned Braswell. So far, it has come to light that the attorney who actually delivered the pardon application was Hillary Clinton's brother Hugh Rodham, who was promised payment of $200,000 if the pardon was granted. Bill Clinton has stated that he was unaware of Braswell's pending legal troubles, and both Bill and Hillary Clinton have denied knowing that Hugh Rodham was advocating for Braswell.

Ironically, the pardon may serve a useful purpose. The publicity it has generated may cause regulatory agencies to act against Braswell's misleading promotions. It may also inspire the news media to investigate why the FDA, the FTC, and the U.S. Postal Service did not stop them.

Spinal manipulation fails to help infantile colic. A Norwegian research team has completed a double-blind clinical trial in which 86 infants with typical colicky pain received either chiropractic spinal manipulation or a placebo. Thirty-two (69.9%) of 46 infants in the treatment group and 24 (60%) of 40 in the control group showed some degree of improvement—a difference that is not statistically significant. The researchers concluded that chiropractic manipulation is no more effective than placebo for treating infantile colic. [Olafsdottir E and others. Randomised controlled trial of infantile colic treated with chiropractic spinal manipulation. Archives of Diseases in Childhood 84:138-141, 2001.] Claims that manipulation can relieve colic have been based on anecdotal reports and small, poorly designed studies. The Norwegian report illustrates why proper design is needed when studying conditions that are self-limiting or have a very variable course.

FBI health fraud report (2000). The Associated Press has reported that during 2000, the Federal Bureau of Investigation racked up 741 indictments and 560 convictions for health care fraud and was responsible for obtaining more the $290 million in fines or money recovered for fraud losses to private and governmental insurance plans. In 1996, Congress appropriated an additional $548 million over seven years for health care enforcement, enabling the FBI to quadruple the number of agents working in that area. As a result, the agency's caseload has increased considerably.

Two "alternative" cancer clinics lack adequate data. Researchers from the University of Texas have investigated treatment outcomes at the Bio-Medical Center in Tijuana, Mexico, and the Livingston Foundation Medical Center in San Diego, California. (The Bio-Medical Center offers Hoxsey herbal treatment, whereas the Livingston Center uses the methods of Virginia Livingston, M.D., who claimed that cancer was caused by an infectious agent. To judge the effect of treatment, it is necessary to know the stage of the cancer when treatment began and to follow patients closely for at least five years. The researchers concluded that the Bio-Medical Center's data were far too skimpy to draw conclusions and the Livingston Center's data were better but still inadequate. [Richardson MA and others. Assessment outcomes at alternative medicine clinics: A feasibility study. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 7(1):19-32, 2001.]

Dubious "clinical trial." General Services Management is soliciting patients for what it calls a "clinical trial" to determine whether a dietary supplement can reduce the incidence of cancer in people who are considered at "increased risk.". Applicants are asked to (a) complete a questionnaire to see whether their risk is high enough to qualify and (b) if accepted, to pay $59 per month for five years to participate in the study. However (a) the questionnaire is worded so that the vast majority of test-takers will be rated as "increased risk" and (b) there is no control group, so the process cannot determine whether taking the product is better than doing nothing.

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This page was posted on January 26, 2001.