Consumer Health Digest #04-43

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
October 26, 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

Infomercial complaint program launched. The Electronic Retailing Association (ERA) and the National Advertising Review Council (NARC) have launched a program to counter the dissemination of unsubstantiated and false advertising claims in infomercials. The new program will be funded by the ERA but operated by an attorney and an administrative person hired by the NARC. Complaints can be filed on the ERA's Savvy Shopper Web site. Adjudications are expected to take no more than 60 days. If claims are judged to be misleading and are not stopped, the problem will be publicized and referred to the FTC. The ERA is the trade association for major companies who use electronic media to advertise goods and services to the public. Complaints can also be made directly to the Federal Trade Commission, which is concerned about both advertising and improper sales practices such as unauthorized charges and failure to provide refunds. Infomercial Watch has further information.

IOM "CAM" report overdue. An Institute of Medicine report on "complementary and alternative medicine" which was originally planned for publication in June 2004, has not yet been issued. The project, sponsored by the National Institutes of Health and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, is expected to cover "CAM" research, regulation, training, credentialing and integration with conventional medicine. In February 2003, the IOM Web site posted the names of 15 appointees and asked for public comment about their suitability. After Dr. Stephen 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 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 critic was invited for this purpose and the project leader ignored repeated requests for an appropriate audience and an offer to review the draft were refused. Dr. Barrett, who suspects that the draft report contains irresponsible recommendations, wonders whether the publication delay indicates that top IOM officials are worried that publishing such a report would damage IOM's reputation.

Proposed chiropractic educational standards based on quack concepts. The Council on Chiropractic Education (CCE), which accredits chiropractic schools, has called for public comment on proposed revisions to its standards for Doctor of Chiropractic programs. Dr. Stephen Barrett has noted that two of the proposed revisions incorporate dubious chiropractic concepts and procedures:

These words reflect widely held chiropractic delusions that spinal misalignments ("subluxations") are the cause or underlying cause of ill health and that periodic spinal adjustments will correct them and promote general health. The "subluxations" that chiropractors postulate are nebulous and have not been scientifically defined or demonstrated. "Corrective" and "wellness" care, which many chiropractors recommend to everyone that consults them, have not been substantiated as useful. Chiropractic care does not produce "wellness" or "optimal health." The above-mentioned diagnostic instruments, which "straight" chiropractors use to detect "subluxations," have no demonstrated medical value.

Unlicensed naturopath facing wrongful death suit. Brian O'Connell, an unlicensed naturopath who practiced in Wheat Ridge, Colorado, is being sued by the parents of a boy who died under his care. The suit accuses O'Connell of causing the premature death of 19-year-old Sean Flanagan, who was terminally ill with cancer when his parents took him to O'Connell's clinic. According to the complaint:

O'Connell is also facing criminal charges of practicing medicine without a license in Jefferson County.

Former city officials indicted for paying psychic. Diana Cortez and Sandra Lopez of La Grulla, Texas, have been charged with embezzling public funds to pay for services from a "psychic." From May 2001 to May 2003, Cortez was Mayor of La Grulla, Texas, and Lopez was a bookkeeper responsible for La Grulla's accounts payable. The indictment alleges that for about a year the pair used fraudulent invoices, vouchers, work orders, and contract agreements to divert approximately $53,700 of city funds to pay for tarot card readings and other psychic consultations. It is a federal crime for any person having control of a government entity that receives more than $10,000 in one year under a federal program or grant, to embezzle $5,000 or more. If convicted, Cortez and Lopez face a maximum penalty of ten years in prison and a fine of $250,000. [Former Mayor and bookkeeper of City of La Grulla indicted for theft of federal funds to pay psychic. USDOJ news release, Aug 31, 2004]

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This page was posted on October 26, 2004.