Consumer Health Digest #03-51

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
December 30, 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.

FDA announces ephedra ban. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has begun is alerting the public that dietary supplements containing ephedrine alkaloids should not be consumed. The agency has also notified more than 60 firms that market these products that it intends to issue a final rule prohibiting their sale, which will become effective 60 days after its publication. The FDA is taking this step after conducting a thorough investigation as required under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) of 1994 for banning supplements that present a significant and unreasonable risk to human health. The review concluded that ephedra has little effectiveness except for short-term weight loss but raises blood pressure and can cause strokes. [FDA plans regulation prohibiting sale of ephedra-containing dietary supplements and advises consumers to stop using these products. FDA news release, Dec 30, 2003] Ephedra products are banned in Illinois, New York, and California. Since 1993. the Food and Drug Administration has received nearly 17,000 reports of adverse events among people taking ephedra supplements, including heart attacks, strokes, seizures, and more than 100 deaths. [Ephedra: Heart dangers in disguise. Consumer Reports, Jan 2004] In February 2003, the FDA warned 26 firms to stop making unproven claims that ephedrine-containing dietary supplements enhance athletic performance. The FDA Center for Food Safety and Nutrition has comprehensive information about the ephedra problem.

Quackwatch launches HONcode violator project. The Health on the Net (HON) Foundation permits sites that subscribe to its principles to display the HONcode seal. However, many sites that display the seal violate these principles. Quackwatch has listed some of them and is urging Web users to identify and report others.

Arkansas judge upholds unfair chiropractic attack on physical therapist. An Arkansas Circuit Court Judge has upheld a ruling by the Arkansas State Board of Chiropractic Examiners which fined physical therapist Michael Teston, of Little Rock, Arkansas, $10,000 for allegedly practicing chiropractic without a license. The board's action was based on the claim that he had manipulated a patient's spine. The Arkansas Board of Physical Therapists has ruled that Teston's treatment was mobilization, not manipulation, and was therefore within the lawful scope of physical therapy. However, the chiropractic board concluded that because his treatment caused an audible "popping" sound, it was manipulation, which is reserved for licensed chiropractors and physicians. The chiropractic board's attack is part of a longstanding chiropractic campaign intended to stop physical therapists from doing what chiropractors consider uniquely theirs. About two years ago, the American Chiropractic Association sought (unsuccessfully) to prevent Medicare from paying for manipulation performed by physical therapists. Teston is appealing the Circuit Court's ruling to the Arkansas Supreme Court and would appreciate help with his legal costs. Contributions should be sent to ArPTA fund for Michael Teston, c/o Jennifer Coleman, 9 Shackleford Plaza, Suite 1, Little Rock, AR 72211. Details of the case are posted on Teston's Web site.

Chelation therapist charged with insurance fraud. A federal grand jury has charged Scott Rulon Werner, MD, of Cedar City, Utah, with 54 law violations in a scheme to defraud Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurance companies. According to the indictment, Werner falsely represented on insurance claim forms that he had provided IV services when he had actually performed chelation therapy for ailments for which chelation therapy is not approved for use. The indictment also charges that after Werner received a subpoena for records relating to certain patients, Werner (or clinic personnel acting under his direction) began changing patient chart entries by placing "IV therapy" stickers over the original chart entries of "chelation therapy." [Doctor charged in 54-count indictment with health care fraud, false claims, other federal violations. DOJ news release, Nov 26, 2003]

Consumers Union and The Sharper Image in court battle. Consumers Union (CU) has filed a motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed by The Sharper Image in response to reports that criticized its "Ionic Breeze" air cleaner devices. In February 2002, Consumer Reports said that its tests of the Ionic Breeze Quadra "found almost no measurable reduction in airborne particles." After the company complained, CU conducted additional tests and, in October 2003, published a similar conclusion. [Air cleaners: Behind the hype. Consumer Reports 68(10):26-29, 2003] Californians have filed at least two lawsuits seeking class-action status for consumers who bought Ionic Breeze air purifiers from The Sharper Image during the past four years. [Consumers Union files motion to strike Sharper Image lawsuit under California Anti-SLAPP statute: Organization contends lawsuit is an abuse of the courts, intended to chill free speech rights. CU news release, Nov 3, 2003]

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This page was posted on December 30, 2003.