Consumer Health Digest #01-45
Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
November 5, 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.
Medical impostor (Caplinger) gets long prison sentence. Gregory Earl Caplinger, who operated a cancer clinic in the Dominican Republic, has been sentenced to 14 years in federal prison followed by 3 years of supervised release and was ordered to pay $1,058,000 in restitution to his victims. During his criminal career, he falsely claimed to be a distinguished and widely published medical doctor and researcher. In July 2000, after a six-day trial, a North Carolina jury convicted him of wire fraud and money laundering related to "investments" in his phony remedy "ImmuStim." The sentence is the maximum permissible under federal sentencing guidelines. Quackwatch fully describes his bogus credentials and illegal activities.
"Miss Cleo" marketers facing $224,000 penalty. The New York State Consumer Protection Board has cited Florida-based Access Resource Services (ARS), for making at least 112 calls to New Yorkers who had signed up for the "?no-call" list. The state's no-call law, which was passed in 2,000, enables the state to assess $2,000 for each violative call. The board's announcement also noted that ARS had engaged in deceptive sales practices; sold its services to minors; and "contacted hundreds of New Yorkers with a deluge of telemarketing calls, e-mails and literature that is misleading, unsolicited and unwanted." ['Miss Cleo' cited for barrage of telemarketing calls. Consumer Protection Board releases report, "Dialing for Dollars," detailing misleading sales practices by Florida psychic service. New York State Consumer Protection Board news release, Oct 31, 2001] The agency has also released a detailed report on the deception involved in marketing her services [Rhodes CA. Dialing for Dollars. New York State Consumer Protection Board, Oct 2001] The report states that "Miss Cleo" is Youree Cleomili Harris of Miami, Florida, who considers herself a "shaman." The report also states that the Psychic Readers Network, for which she acts as a spokes-psychic," generates between $300 and $400 million per year.
FDA cautions against Internet diagnostic tests. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has warned although some laboratory tests sold online are legitimate, others may not work or are misrepresented. The agency advises:
- Don't be fooled by a professional-looking website. Anyone can hire a web-page designer to create an appealing site.
- Avoid websites with only a post office number and no telephone number.
- Avoid websites that use the words "new cure" or "miracle cure."
- Avoid products with impressive-sounding terminology that can hide bad science.
- Avoid products that claim the government, medical profession, or research scientists have conspired to suppress the product.
- Beware of claims that the test complies with all regulatory agencies.
- Beware of tests labeled for export only. This usually means that the test is not cleared or approved for sale in the U.S.
- Be especially wary if
a test is:
- Claimed to diagnose more than one illness, e.g., cancer, arthritis, and anemia.
- Made in a country other than the United States. If so, check to see if FDA has cleared or approved the test for use at home.
- Made by only one laboratory and sold directly to the public. This is a "home-brew" test and is not intended for OTC sale.
Source: Buying diagnostic tests on the Internet: Buyer beware, FDA Web site, Oct 31, 2001.
FTC/FDA/CDC issue warning on "anthrax cures." Three U.S. Government agencies have issued a joint warning that warns that "fraudsters often follow the headlines, tailoring their offers to prey on consumers' fears and vulnerabilities." The alert advises:
- Talk to your healthcare professional before you use any medications. Confirming an infection requires a doctor's examination and diagnosis. This is particularly important for anthrax.
- Know that some Web sites may sell ineffective drugs. Some sites may claim to sell FDA-approved drugs, like Cipro, made to meet U. S. standards. In fact, the drugs could be counterfeit or even adulterated with dangerous contaminants.
- Know who you're buying from. Would you buy a prescription drug from a sidewalk vendor? Online, anyone can pretend to be anyone. To ensure that the site is reputable and licensed to sell drugs in the United States, the FDA recommends that checking with the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy to determine whether a Web site is a licensed pharmacy in good standing.
- Don't buy prescription drugs from sites that offer to prescribe them without a physical exam, sell drugs without a prescription or sell drugs unapproved by the FDA
- Don't do business with Web sites that don't give access to pharmacists to answer questions;
- Avoid sites that don't provide their name, physical business address, and phone number
- Don't purchase from foreign Web sites. It is generally illegal to import drugs that are sold by these sites; the risks are greater, and there is very little the U.S. government can do if you get ripped off.
- If you buy drugs online, pay by credit or charge card.
Source: Agencies offer tips for consumers eyeing online anthrax cures: FTC says fraudsters prey on consumers' fears. FTC news release, Nov 1, 2001.
Fake and poor-quality drugs found in six developing countries. Two studies reported in the June 15, 2001 issue of Lancet have found that substantial percentages of various drugs purchased pharmacies in Nigeria, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam lacked or contained the wrong amount the active ingredient. One of the research teams concluded that many anti-malarial drugs they tested were "deliberate fakes" that were directly responsible for the deaths of patients with malaria. Access to the articles is available after free registration.
Quackwatch launches site to debunk homeopathy. HomeoWatch, a new Quackwatch subsidiary, will provide a comprehensive guide to homeopathic history, theories, and current practices. Homeopathy is based on the idea that if a substance can produce symptoms in healthy people, tiny amounts of that substance can cure diseases having those symptoms. Advocates also claim that substances so dilute that no molecules of "active" ingredient remain can still exert powerful therapeutic effects. These ideas are senseless, but a quirk in federal law has enabled homeopathic products to be marketed as "drugs."
This page was posted on November 4, 2001.