Consumer Health Digest #01-26
Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
June 25, 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.
"Rebirthers" receive 16-year prison sentences. Connell Watkins and Julie Ponder, who were convicted in April of reckless child abuse resulting in the death 10-year-old Candace Newmaker, have been sentenced to 16 years in Colorado state prison. Although this is the minimum sentence required for these offenses, the judge noted that "a 16-year sentence is a very strong statement to other mental-health professionals not to do what these defendants have done." Evidence presented during the trial showed that Candace was tortured for eight days and was finally suffocated during a "treatment" that supposedly would enable her to bond with her adoptive mother. The convictions appear to be the first for a psychotherapy-related crime other than sexual abuse of a patient. Watkins supporters have been raising funds for her defense. Although she has engaged a former Colorado Supreme Court Justice to appeal her conviction, both the judge and the prosecution are confident that the appeal will fail. For additional information, see Quackwatch.
Dubious Tijuana cancer clinics curbed. Mexican authorities have announced that Century Nutrition (operated by Hulda Clark) and BioPulse International—which have been restricted since February—may not resume their previous activities and must pay a fine. According to a government official, the federal government could approve requests to conduct "experimental" treatments limited to a few patients who were not charged for them. [Dibble S, Crabtree P. Baja agencies put restrictions on alternative health clinics. San Diego Tribune, June 21, 2001] These actions indicate that the new Mexican government may stop permitting such clinics to exploit desperately ill Americans.
Nonaccredited Columbia Pacific University still in business. Columbia Pacific University, a nonaccredited correspondence school that issues health-related "degrees," has moved to Missoula, Montana and changed its name to Commonwealth Pacific University. The current Web site does not mention that a California court had ordered it to stop operating in California. For additional information, see Quackwatch.
SkyBiz Pyramid scheme stopped. The Federal Trade Commission has secured a court order freezing the assets of SkyBiz.com, which is accused of operating an illegal pyramid scheme that bilked consumers of approximately $175 million. The main product consisted of online tutorials, but the company included the Nanci Corporation, which has marketed dietary supplements and other health-related products since 1986. [Court appoints temporary receiver over international pyramid operation. FTC news release, June 10, 2001.]
Florida chiropractic school funding vetoed. In May 2000, Florida enacted a bill that included $1 million to plan for a chiropractic school at Florida State University. The money paid for an eight-part report conducted by the State University Board of regents and the Florida Department of Postsecondary Education Planning Commission and published in December 2000. The report presented a highly optimistic view of chiropractic's value, but, in June 2001, Governor Jeb Bush vetoed the budget item that would have allocated another million for the school.
Nationwide recall of "Treasure of the East" products. The FDA is warning consumers to stop using 13 Chinese herbal products containing aristolochic acid, because they may present a serious health hazard to consumers. Aristolochic acid found in certain plants and botanicals is toxic to the kidneys and is a potent carcinogen. The products were distributed nationwide in small quantities, primarily to acupuncturists, herbalists, and herbal stores. They are in powder form (3.5-ounce) bottles) or capsule form (100 per bottle) under the "Treasure of the East" label. [FDA issues a nationwide alert on the recall of thirteen "Treasure of the East" herbal products because of possible health risk. FDA news release, June 20, 2001] The company's Web site makes illegal health claims for many of its products.
Former NEJM editors call for Congressional investigation of the drug industry. Marsha Angell, M.D., and Arnold S. Relman, M.D., former top editors of the New England Journal of Medicine, have accused drug companies of making excessive profits. [Angell M, Relman AS. Prescription for profit Washington Post, June 20, 2001] In an article in the Washington Post, they stated:
- Prescription drug costs are rising at 19% per year and will soon exceed payments to doctors as the largest item on the health bill after hospital costs.
- Pharmaceutical giants spend two or three times as much on marketing and administration as they do on research and development (R&D), and their profits are about twice their R&D costs.
- Many of the important new drugs the industry has brought to market over the past few decades have stemmed from basic research at the National Institutes of Health, academic laboratories supported by the NIH, or smaller biotech companies licensed the products to the large companies.
- The pharmaceutical giants are putting a major part of their resources into the development and marketing of variants of drugs already on the market.
- Drug companies devote have the largest lobby in Washington, and contribute copiously to political campaigns.
- In contracts with academic researchers, drug companies often insist on controlling how the research is done and reported, and whether the results will be published at all.
- This matter is urgent because Congress is considering the addition of a drug benefit to Medicare. The industry would like such a benefit without new regulation, but that would cause drug prices to rise even faster.
- New legislation should be based on a thorough understanding of the industry's behavior, best achieved through in-depth congressional hearings.
This page was posted on June 25, 2001.