Consumer Health Digest #05-38

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
September 20, 2005

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.

"Toxic mold expert" facing serious legal problems. The Medical Board of California has accused Gary J. Ordog, M.D., of Newhall, California of 15 charges of professional misconduct that could lead to revocation of his license. The charges include gross negligence; incompetence; inadequate record-keeping; dishonest or corrupt acts, excessive prescribing; false documents; and deceptive public communication. Among other things, he is accused of (a) improperly diagnosing four patients with heavy metal toxicity and/or toxic encephalopathy (brain disease) and (b) falsely claiming to have certain credentials.

In addition to seeing patients, Ordog has served as an expert witness and issued many reports in support of people who claimed to have been injured by chemicals or mold. Forbes Magazine has reported that "for $9,800 up front (plus $975 an hour) Dr. Ordog appears as an expert witness in lawsuits to testify that mold can cause a terrifying array of diseases, from lung cancer to cirrhosis of the liver." [Fisher D. Dr. Mold: The science may be sketchy, but medical "experts" like Gary Ordog keep litigation alive and kicking. Forbes Magazine, April 11, 2005 (Registration on the Forbes site, which is free, is needed to access this article.)] However, the medical board's accusation suggests that many of his reports have been bogus. Ordog is also embroiled a civil suit by a law firm that used him as an expert but now believes he overstated his credentials and billed for services he did not perform.

Medical qigong at charter school challenged. Controversy has erupted over the imposition of medical qigong at the International School of Monterey, a charter school in Monterey, California. Qigong is based on the metaphysical notion that health can be improved by manipulating a "life force (Qi or Chi)." through various means. It has been taught weekly in some classrooms for three years by "Dr. Eric W. Shaffer, DMQ (China)," whose son is a student at the school. Shaffer, who identifies himself as a "Doctor of Medical Qigong," gives courses to the general public but is not licensed as a public school teacher or health practitioner. According to an ad he placed in a school yearbook, his classroom objectives are to "reduce stress and increase clarity and focus," "regulate the smooth, harmonious circulation of the body's energy," "increase mind/body integration, intuition and imagination," and "promote loving kindness toward self and others." A Web site that advertises his work states: "Medical Qigong is energy training and treatment with a specific medical application" and its "personalized self-care exercises . . . are used for self-healing, to relieve stress . . . and to increase longevity." The school's director has said that the purpose of Shaffer's activity is to "facilitate relaxation and stress-reduction" and that some classes perform Qigong stretching and breathing techniques daily. However, children have reported being taught, for example, that by raising their arms, they can take energy from the earth and store it in their liver, kidney, and other organs. Parents have expressed concern that the Qigong is unscientific, unproven, and possibly dangerous, and that they were not informed about and did not consent to their children's participation. After the school board held a hearing, it suspended the practice while it investigates.

More weight-loss patch scammers penalized. The alleged masterminds behind a fraudulent scheme to market two seaweed-based patches as weight-loss products to U.S. consumers have settled FTC charges. The defendants, all based in the United Kingdom, will pay $150,000—the profits they made from selling Hydro-Gel Slim Patch and Slenderstrip in the United States. The settlement bars the defendants from making, advertising, selling, or helping others to sell any dietary supplement, food, drug, or weight-loss product, and from making unsubstantiated claims about other health-related products or services in the United States. Last year, a Canadian-based fulfillment company doing business as Beauty Visions Worldwide and SlimShop, and its principal Robert Van Velzen, settled charges that they made false and unsubstantiated claims for the patches. [Canadian marketers of fraudulent weight-loss products pay redress to settle FTC charges. FTC news release, October 12, 2004] The current defendants—Kingstown Associates, Ltd.; BVW Associates, Inc.; Gary Bush; David Varley; and Laurence White—were added to the FTC's original complaint when when the Commission concluded that they were orchestrating the manufacturing, advertising, and selling of the patches in the United States. [FTC stops weight-loss claims about seaweed-based patches: Defendants banned from marketing weight-loss products and dietary supplements in the U.S. FTC news release, Sept 15, 2005]

Cancer fund scammer sentenced to prison. Martti Antila, of Lake Worth, Florida, has been sentenced to six years in prison for submitting more than $77,000 in false claims to the Taxol settlement fund. The $12.5-million fund was the result of an antitrust case filed against Bristol-Myers Squibb by the attorneys general from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories. The lawsuit alleged that the company obtained invalid patents for Taxol, which delayed the availability of lower-cost generic substitutes. As a result, patients had to pay higher prices for the drug. To facilitate the refund process for cancer patients, claim forms were readily available on the Internet. Law enforcement officers believe that Antila used the names of more than 50 supposed patients and at at least 11 doctors to create his fraudulent claims. The sentencing judge has reserved jurisdiction to consider restitution hearings at a later date. [Man Who Stole from Cancer Fund Receives Prison Sentence Florida Attorney General news release, Aug 23, 2005]

Former chelation therapist pleads guilty to health fraud. Tadeusz Skowron, M.D., of Avon, Connecticut has pled guilty to one count of health care fraud. The indictment stated that although his medical license was suspended in May 2004, he continued to treat Medicare patients and billed the Medicare program for services rendered to 39 patients. His medical practice had offices in Bridgeport and Old Greenwich, Connecticut. He is scheduled to be sentenced on October 20th. [Suspended doctor pleads guilty to health care fraud. DOJ news release, July 15, 2005]

George Kindness pleads guilty to criminal misbranding. George Kindness, on behalf of himself and Amscot Medical Labs, Inc., has pleaded guilty to one count of being aided and abetted in the introduction of a misbranded drug (an alleged cancer vaccine) into interstate commerce with intent to mislead. The indictment alleges that he had been making "vaccines" from blood and tumor tissues of cancer patients and shipping them to an unidentified co-conspirator who used them to treat patients.

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This page was posted on September 20, 2005.