Consumer Health Digest #03-42

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
October 28, 2003

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.

DVA chiropractic advisory report nears completion. On September 17, the Department of Veteran Affairs (DVA) Chiropractic Advisory Committee voted to accept 38 recommendations to guide implementation of chiropractic services under a law passed in 2001. The law calls for providing "a variety of chiropractic care and services for neuromusculoskeletal conditions including subluxation complex." The Committee's purpose is to advise the Secretary of Veterans Affairs on (a) protocols governing referrals to chiropractors, direct access to chiropractic care, and scope of chiropractic practice; (b) definitions of service to be provided; and (c) advice in developing and implementing the program. Subluxation is a medical term that means partial dislocation of a bone, but chiropractors use the term to mean other things. "Subluxation complex" is a nebulous concept that has been written into some federal and state laws even though chiropractors cannot agree among themselves about what it is. [Barrett S. Chiropractic's elusive "subluxation." Chirobase, Dec 25, 2001] The advisory report states that "not all practitioners agree that the subluxation complex is a clinically definable entity." Two of the eleven advisory committee members wanted surface electromyography and thermography (tests used to diagnose "subluxation complex") added to the list of initial privileges. Neither of these tests has any medically valid use. Noting that respondents to a recent major chiropractic survey rated electromyography as "of little importance" and ignored thermography, the majority of the committee said that providers wishing to use these modalities could seek permission to do so. The majority also concluded that access to chiropractic care should require referral from the patient's primary care provider or another VA clinician who is treating the patient. It is standard practice within the VA system that referral is required in order to see a specialist. Some committee members expressed concerns that allowing direct access would quickly overload the capacity to provide chiropractic care. Many chiropractic organizations have protested the referral requirement. The recommendations are posted on Chirobase. The advisory committee will meet again on December 2-3.

MRI breast cancer scanner marketers sued for false advertising. The California Medical Board and the San Francisco District Attorney have jointly filed a civil suit against Craig Bittner, M.D., founder and medical director of HealthScan America, Inc., an Arizona corporation doing business in California under the name of AmeriScan. The suit, filed October 23 in San Francisco Superior Court, seeks to halt allegedly deceptive advertising used to promote AmeriScan's MRI BreastScreen, a $2,000 test claimed to be an superior to mammography for detecting breast cancer. Defendants are alleged to have falsely stated that "the MRI BreastScreen is the absolute most accurate technology available for the early detection of breast cancer;" that it is "proven to find nearly 100% of all breast cancers;" and that "its success has been repeatedly documented throughout international medical literature." Defendants are also alleged to have made misleading comparisons, including claims that "mammograms miss two out of three breast cancers," and that the MRI BreastScreen "is proven to be three times better at detecting early breast cancer than regular x-ray mammography." Ron Joseph, Executive Director of the Medical Board, stated that according to leading experts in breast imaging research, MRI may be a useful tool when used together with mammography, but no published, scientific data support defendants' claim that MRI is a proven alternative for breast cancer screening in the general population. The suit seeks an injunction plus civil penalties of up to $2,500 for each deceptive advertisement and unlawful business practice. [San Francisco District Attorney and the Medical Board of California file suit to stop deceptive advertising regarding breast cancer screening. District Attorney news release, Oct 23, 2003]

Outrageous homeopathic claims attacked. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has ordered Gordon Josephs to stop claiming that his homeopathic products "Anti-Thrax" and "Viral Immune" are the equivalent of approved vaccines for anthrax and other infectious diseases. Among other things, the warning letter criticized claims on Josephs' Web sites that Anti-Thrax provides "a way to stimulate the immune system to resist anthrax (like a vaccine does)" and that "Our Alternative Immunization Kit contains nosodes which cover viral, bacterial, and even fungal childhood diseases." (Nosodes are homeopathic products made from pathological organs or tissues; causative agents such as bacteria, fungi, ova, parasites, virus particles and yeast; disease products; or excretions.) Josephs' and Web sites have been removed but can still be viewed in the Internet Archive. Josephs is an osteopathic physician who is licensed to practice as a homeopath in Arizona. A few years ago, the Arizona Attorney General charged him with making unsubstantiated advertising claims that intravenous hydrogen peroxide therapy is effective against asthma, chronic obstructive lung disease, Alzheimers', herpes, migraines and hepatitis, and many diseases. The case was settled by an agreement that prohibits him and his employees from making unsubstantiated claims for hydrogen peroxide therapy. HomeoWatch has additional information about Josephs' activities.

Hypnosis seminar founder sued for false advertising. The New Jersey Attorney General is suing the founder of Goen weight-loss and stop-smoking seminars, alleging that he and other defendants intentionally misled consumers through a series of false and deceptive claims that extolled hypnosis as a drug-free alternative to other weight-loss and smoking-cessation programs. The suit alleges that the seminars were nothing more than a ploy to sell dietary supplements, including ephedra-based TrimSpa, without regard for the health of consumers. The State's six-count complaint alleges that founder Alex Szynalski carried out a bait-and-switch advertising scheme that promoted hypnosis seminars but the supplements were the focal point of each program. According to the suit, advertisements claimed that for the $59.99 cost of the seminars, participants could (a) lose as much as 120 pounds a year or stop smoking, (b) "achieve immediate and life long results after only one simple session," and (c) experience "34 high powered, fat eliminating suggestions best described as a deliberate and systematic bombardment of fat destroying technology." However, the advertisements did not say that those results required the use of Goen's supplements, which could cost many hundreds of dollars. The suit also charges that the defendants (a) made unsubstantiated claims about the products, (b) failed to disclose their possible adverse effects, and failed to honor requests for the "110% refund" that had been promised. The other defendants are the Goen Institute, Goen Technologies, Nutramerica, and Albert Fleisher, Ph.D., an official with two of the companies. [New Jersey sues founder of Goen Seminars. News release, Oct 16, 2003]

Podiatrist indicted for Medicare fraud. A federal grand jury has indicted podiatrist Robert "Ken" Kasamatsu, 41, of Chino Hills, California, on charges of fraudulently billing Medicare more than $600,000 from 1996 to 2000. According to the indictment: (a) Kasamatsu used Medicare beneficiary names and numbers to create and submit about 100 claims for services that were never performed; (b) The claims included "two-foot" services on about 40 beneficiaries who had had one or both feet amputated; and (c) About 30 claims were for patients he had never seen, including some who had previously died. If convicted, Kasamatsu faces up to 20 years in federal prison and a $500,000 fine. [Haldane D. Podiatrist billed for amputees, U.S. claims. Los Angeles Times, Oct 24, 2003]

Free symposium on dubious mental health care. On November 13, the New York City branch of the Center for Inquiry [CFI] will host a meeting on "The Assault on Scientific Medicine and Mental Health: Protecting the Public in an Age of Pseudoscience," which will debunk postmodern/pop psychology and discredited therapies. The presenters are CFI Chairman Paul Kurtz; Wallace Sampson, M.D., editor of the Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine; Scott Lilienfeld, Ph. D., editor of the Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice; Saul Green, Ph.D.; Robert Buckman, M.D.; Kimball Atwood, M.D.; Andrew Skolnick; and Cees Renckens, M.D, Chairman, of the Dutch Society Against Quackery. The meeting, which is open to the public free of charge, is scheduled from 1-5 PM at the New York Academy of Medicine, 1216 Fifth Ave (at 103rd St.), Room 20.

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This page was revised on October 29, 2003.