Consumer Health Digest #02-08

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
February 19, 2002

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.

Antiquackery activists blast White House commission. The White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine Policy (WHCCAMP)—a Clinton Administration creation—has been attacked in two articles soon to be published in the Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine. The articles spotlight the bizarre beliefs of most of the commission's members and reveal that WHCCAMP Chairman James S. Gordon, M.D, is a long time advocate of the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, the cult leader who was deported from the United States in 1986 after being accused of poisoning local townspeople who opposed his commune in Oregon. Gordon's other nonscientific beliefs include "alien abduction therapy," "orgone accumulation" and "rebirthing." [Curry EP. Notes on James S. Gordon, MD, Chair of the White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine Policy] Most other WHCCAMP members are unscientific practitioners, dietary supplement entrepreneurs, and CAM-supporting academics. Critics of pseudoscience and quackery are unrepresented.

The commission is expected next month to recommend to President Bush that nonsensical medicine be afforded equal status with standard scientific medicine. Its November 2001 draft report recommends across-the-board "integration" of CAM into government health agencies and the nation's medical, medical education, and insurance systems. This effort would be overseen by a coordinating office "at the highest possible level," which would coordinate with a national policy advisory board established by the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. These recommendations are an affront to medical science and an assault on consumer protection. Last September, a group of academic psychologists and other consumer advocates urged the U.S. Surgeon General to disband the commission.

FTC attacks "Miss Cleo." The U.S Federal Trade Commission has charged two Florida corporations, Access Resource Services, Inc. (ARS), and Psychic Readers Network (PRN), with deceptive advertising, billing and collection practices in connection with "psychic readings" offered by "Miss Cleo." The FTC complaint alleges that the entire operation is "permeated with fraud" that included misrepresentations that a "reading" will be provided at no cost and that consumers owed money when, in fact, they did not. [FTC charges "Miss Cleo" promoters with deceptive advertising, billing and collection practices: "Free readings" result in large phone bill charges. FTC news release, Feb 15, 2002] Several state attorneys general have filed similar lawsuits within the past two years. The New York authorities have published a 23-page report revealing the identity of "Miss Cleo" and the deception used to market her services. [Rhodes CA. Dialing for Dollars. New York State Consumer Protection Board, Oct 2001]

Nurse who killed cancer patient convicted of manslaughter. Joyce E. Brown, R.N., of Kelson, Washington, has been convicted of second-degree manslaughter in connection with the death of a 52-year-old man she treated with a bogus cancer remedy called MICOM. Victor Herbert, M.D., J.D., who testified for the prosecution, stated that the high levels of potassium in the product had stopped the man's heart. MICOM, which is administered intravenously, has been described by its promoters as "complex mineral solution" that can benefit health by raising cellular oxygen levels. Brown's nursing license was summarily suspended in April 2001 and revoked in August 2001 on grounds that she had (a) practiced while her license was expired; (b) practiced without supervision of a licensed physician, and (b) administered an unapproved drug to cancer patients. The patient's daughter has filed a $5 million wrongful death suit against Brown. Quackwatch has additional information about MICOM.

Chiropractor convicted of chelation fraud. Denver chiropractor Thomas R. Lawrence has been convicted of 36 counts of mail fraud, wire fraud, false claims, and money laundering resulting from the submission of more than $200,000 worth of false claims to Medicare. The evidence showed that Lawrence had administered chelation therapy to patients seeking help for cardiovascular disease, but he had claimed on insurance forms that he was administering "infusion therapy" to patients suffering from "heavy metal toxicity." (Medicare does not cover chelation therapy for treating cardiovascular disease because there is no evidence that it is effective.) Lawrence also submitted claims under the Medicare provider number of an osteopathic physician who worked at the clinic to make it appear that the services were rendered or directly supervised by the osteopath. Sentencing is scheduled for April 20.

Podiatry fraud investigation becomes murder probe. Ronald Mikos, D.P.M., a Chicago podiatrist under investigation for Medicare fraud, has been charged with two counts of obstruction of justice in connection with the case. According to reports in the Chicago Tribune:

Sources: O'Connor M. Prosecutor links fraud probe to Edgewater death, Chicago Tribune, Feb 11, 2002; and Doctor denied bond in tampering: Podiatrist tied to ammunition. Chicago Tribune, Feb 12, 2002.

GAO calls for more research oversight. After reviewing policies and procedures at five universities, the U.S. General Accounting Office has concluded that tighter rules are needed to deal with conflicts of interest in situations where federally funded research results might lead to marketable products. [Biomedical Research: HHS Direction Needed to Address Financial Conflicts of Interest. Report #GAO-02-89, Nov 26, 2001] The agency's 46-page report states that although financial relationships between individual investigators or their research institutions and private industry have yielded significant results, some collaborations have raised concerns that potential financial rewards might compromise the integrity of the research and the safety of human research subjects. Such collaborations have increased greatly since the 1980 Bayh-Dole Act enabled universities, nonprofit corporations, and small businesses keep the patents and profits from their federally funded projects. The report also concludes that researchers should have to disclose their financial interests to the institutional review boards (IRBs) that now evaluate the risks and benefits to experimental subjects.

Child claimed to read while blindfolded exposed as fraud. Ten year-old Natalia Lulova, who was claimed to read and discern colors while blindfolded, has been exposed as a fraud. The child was tested by magician James Randi, who has a standing offer to pay $1 million to anyone who can demonstrate paranormal, supernatural, or occult abilities. When blindfolded by her mother, the child was able to read and report colors correctly. But after Randi blindfolded her with special care to seal spaces near her nose, her "powers" vanished. Randi stated that he had noticed an unusual concavity in the bridge of the girl's nose that had enabled her to see through hairline gaps between the blindfold and her nose when she turned her head. Others who have failed to pass Randi's test include a nurse who practices therapeutic touch, assorted dowsers, medical quacks, and psychic readers. Several prominent paranormalists have refused to be tested. [Jaroff, L. Debunking seeing without sight: A Russian girl accepts James Randi's $1 million challenge to prove she has paranormal powers. Time Web site, Feb 6, 2002]

Hua Fo tablets contain Viagra ingredient. Health Canada is warning consumers not to use Hua Fo tablets, an unapproved Chinese herbal product claims to enhance sexual function. Samples analyzed by the agency were found to contain sildenafil, the prescription drug approved for treating male erectile dysfunction and sold under the brand name Viagra. [Health Canada warns public not to use Hua Fo. Health Canada news release, Feb 15, 2002].

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This page was revised on February 19, 2002.