Consumer Health Digest #04-24

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
June 15, 2004

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.

Chiropractic "practice-builder" receives 10-year prison sentence for insurance fraud. Ronald L. Halstead, D.C., has been sentenced to 121 months in federal prison for masterminding a scheme that bilked insurance companies. Two chiropractic accomplices received 37 month sentences and were ordered to forfeit $1.9 million. Halstead had been teaching chiropractors how to boost their incomes for more than 20 years. A 1981 advertisement for his audiotaped practice-management course stated that he saw over 700 patients per week and had made nearly $800,000 in 1980 but, due to investments and "proper income tax planning," had paid no income tax for 7 consecutive years. Not long afterward, he was convicted of Medicaid fraud in Illinois. In 1982, he moved to Scottsdale, Arizona, where he operated Practice Systems, a practice-management firm that taught chiropractors how set up high-volume MD/DC practices for rehabilitating injured patients. During the 1990s, ads for his seminars boasted that many of his clients had increased their income by $50,000 per month and that a few were producing over $300,000 per month.

In the recent case, the collaborators submitted or caused to be submitted false insurance claims for services said to have been performed by medical doctors but were actually performed by chiropractors trying to evade some program limits on chiropractic care. The indictment also noted that the chiropractors used scripts created by Halstead that were designed to (a) persuade new patients that they had serious spinal conditions, even if they did not; (b) persuade the patients that their "conditions" could be effectively treated by chiropractic manipulation and other means; and (c) overcome any objections the prospective patients had to the type, frequency, length, and cost of the proposed treatments. The clinic staff then followed protocols devised by Halstead to order treatment based on the scope of the patients' insurance coverage rather than their actual physical conditions and needs. Chirobase has posted Halstead's 1981 ad, samples of his scripts, a copy of the indictment, and further details about the case.

IOM refuses offer of "CAM" report review. The Institute of Medicine, which is preparing a report on "complementary and alternative medicine" research, regulation, training, credentialing and integration with conventional medicine, has refused Dr. Stephen Barrett's offer to review its draft report prior to publication. In February 2003, the IOM Web site posted the names of 15 appointees and asked for public comment about their suitability. After Dr. Barrett pointed out that at least half of the proposed members had a direct or indirect economic interest in the project's outcome and several had actively promoted quack methods, two members were replaced [Barrett S. Some notes on the Institute of Medicine's panel on "complementary and alternative medicine." Quackwatch, revised April 30, 2003] The project, sponsored by the National Institutes of Health and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, included hearings at which public testimony was presented. Although many untrustworthy "CAM" proponents were invited to present 20- to 60-minute testimony at these hearings, no knowledgeable critics were invited for this purpose and repeated requests for an appropriate audience (longer than the 3-5 minutes allotted to uninvited speakers) were ignored. Publication of the final report is expected soon.

Health Canada warns against "Thermonex" use. Health Canada is warning consumers not to use Thermonex capsules for weight loss, water loss, and to help boost thyroid output. Although Thermonex is widely advertised as "ephedra-free," it contains synephrine, which is similar to ephedrine and can have similar adverse effects such as high blood pressure and cardiovascular toxicity that could lead to stroke, heart attack, and/or death. Health Canada has previously advised consumers against the use of ephedrine-containing products, especially those containing caffeine and other stimulants. Thermonex also contains high levels of the caffeine and other ingredients that increase the effects of synephrine. Many other health products advertised for weight loss, and containing "bitter orange extract" also contain synephrine. Thermonex is manufactured by BSN Inc. in the United States. While it is not yet known if this product is currently being sold in Canada, shipments of Thermonex have been refused at the Canadian border. Health Canada has issued a Customs Alert to prevent shipments of this product from entering the country. [Health Canada warns not to use "Thermonex." May 28, 2004]

Chiropractic impostor charged with sexual assault. Michael T. Ricks, Sr., of Aurora, Colorado, who falsely claimed to be a chiropractor, massage therapist, cosmetologist, dermatologist and physical therapist, has been arrested for allegedly sexually assaulting three of his clients. The arrest took place after a woman reported that she was touched inappropriately on several occasions while under the care of Ricks, whom she thought was a credentialed chiropractor. The investigators also found fraudulent credentials indicating that Ricks held a Ph.D. in psychology and a masters degree in clinical psychology from San Maritz University and was a certified massage therapist through the Kansas Institute of Massage Therapy. Neither of these learning institutions actually exists. [Man claiming to be chiropractor, masseur accused of sexually assaulting three clients. Douglas County Sheriff's Department news release, June 9, 2004] Two more victims complained after Ricks was arrested. Ricks is also listed as a "medical consultant" to Rejuvenu International, a North Carolina-based company that has received two FDA warning letters about its "hair removal" devices. [Rejuvenu International Limited. HairFacts Web site, accessed June 2004]

Kentucky Fried Chicken settles FTC charges. KFC Corporation, owner of the Kentucky Fried Chicken national restaurant chain, has settled Federal Trade Commission charges that it made false claims in a national television advertising campaign about the relative nutritional value and healthiness of its fried chicken. The Commission also charged the company with making false claims that its fried chicken is compatible with low-carbohydrate weight-loss programs. The proposed settlement will prohibit the company from making these or similar claims about the nutritional value, weight-loss benefits, or other health benefits of its chicken products and meals unless the company can substantiate the claims. The FTC's complaint charged KFC with making false claims that eating KFC fried chicken, specifically two Original Recipe fried chicken breasts, is better for a consumer's health than eating a Burger King Whopper. One ad featured a woman putting a bucket of KFC fried chicken down in front of her husband and announcing, "Remember how we talked about eating better? Well, it starts today!" The ad then states that "Two KFC breasts have less fat than a BK Whopper." Although the two fried chicken breasts have slightly less total fat and saturated fat than a Whopper, they have more than three times the trans fat and cholesterol, more than twice the sodium, and more calories. No financial penalty was assessed, but two of the five FTC Commissioners filed dissents stating that a financial penalty would be appropriate because "KFC is fully aware of our nation's struggle with obesity, yet has cynically attempted to exploit a massive health problem through deceptive advertising." [KFC's claims that fried chicken is a way to "eat better" don't fly. FTC news release, June 3, 2004]

FTC says "do not spam" list would be premature. The FTC has concluded that a National Do Not Email Registry would fail to reduce the amount of spam consumers receive, might increase it, and could not be enforced effectively. In a report to Congress, the FTC also said that anti-spam efforts should focus on creating a robust e-mail authentication system that would prevent spammers from hiding their tracks and thereby evading Internet service providers' anti-spam filters and law enforcement. To help focus these efforts, the FTC will sponsor a Fall 2004 Authentication Summit to encourage a thorough analysis of possible authentication systems and their swift deployment. [New system to verify origins of e-mail must emerge before "do not spam" list can be implemented, FTC tells Congress. FTC news release, June 15, 2004]

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This page was posted on June 15, 2004.