Consumer Health Digest #05-51
Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
December 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.
Alleged cancer scammers indicted. Todata R. Shanthaveerappa, M.D. (also known as T.R. Shantha, M.D.) and Dan U. Bartoli have been charged with 87 counts of health care fraud and distributing unapproved and misbranded drugs. Shantha has also been accused of laundering money. For several years, Shantha has operated a clinic in Stockbridge, Georgia under the names "Integrated Medical Specialists" and "Integrated Chemotherapy Specialists." Shantha is the clinic's medical director, and Bartoli is his medical assistant. One of Shantha's Web sites offers a long list of dubious methods "for the treatment of cancers and other curable and incurable diseases" and has stated: "We treat all kinds of chronic, incurable diseases with success!" Another of his sites claims that, "We are the most advanced clinic in North America using multiple modalities to restore the immune system, provide quality of life, eradication of cancer, or at the very least provide disease control." The indictment alleges:
- Shantha and Bartoli treated cancer patients with dinitrophenol (DNP), Ukrain, and hyperbaric oxygen, none of which have any value against the conditions for which he used them.
- The pair also defrauded health insurance companies by submitting claims that disguised what treatments they were providing at the clinic. (Some claims used a procedure code for a standard chemotherapy drug that was not administered; others used an inappropriate code for an oxygen pump.)
- Shantha laundered more than $4 million of the proceeds through transactions designed to conceal the nature, location, source, ownership, and control of the money.
The indictment also calls for forfeiture of all money and property derived from the fraud scheme, including numerous bank accounts, a car, three homes owned by Shantha, and the Stockbridge medical clinic where he and Bartoli work. The DNP treatment is called intracellular hyperthermia. Quackwatch has additional information on DNP and Shantha.
Top "CAM" researcher slams homeopathy. Edzard Ernst, M.D., Ph.D., Exeter University's professor of complementary medicine, has published a blistering attack on homeopathy. In a newspaper interview, he stated: "'Homeopathic remedies don't work. . . . Study after study has shown it is simply the purest form of placebo. You may as well take a glass of water than a homeopathic medicine." [McKie R. Professor savages homeopathy. The Observer, Dec 18, 2005]. Ernst's views were also expressed in a medical journal article:
Homeopathy is a popular but implausible form of medicine. Contrary to many claims by homeopaths, there is no conclusive evidence that highly dilute homeopathic remedies are different from placebos. The benefits that many patients experience after homeopathic treatment are therefore most probably due to nonspecific treatment effects. Contrary to widespread belief, homeopathy is not entirely devoid of risk. Thus, the proven benefits of highly dilute homeopathic remedies, beyond the beneficial effects of placebos, do not outweigh the potential for harm that this approach can cause. [Ernst E. Is homeopathy a clinically valuable approach? Trends in Pharmacological Sciences 26:547-548, 2005]
Homeopathy's potential harm—through bad advice—was highlighted by an e-mail investigation in which a colleague of Ernst who pretended to be the mother of a one-year-old child asked 168 homeopaths for advice about giving the MMR vaccine. The 104 respondents were then notified that the query was part of a research project and given the opportunity to withdraw their answers. Thirty-one (40%) of the 77 who remained advised against immunization and only 2 (3%) advised for it. [Schmidt K, Ernst E. Aspects of MMR: Survey shows that some homeopaths and chiropractors advise against MMR. British Medical Journal 325:597, 2002]
Eyeglass World settles with Florida Attorney General. Eyeglass World and the Lasik Vision Institute have settled complaints by the Florida Attorney General by agreeing to pay penalties and to stop several disputed practices. The Attorney General's office had charged that (a) Eyeglass World was improperly using unlicensed personnel to perform certain procedures; (b) Eyeglass World was failing to honor a "buy-one, get-one-free" offer; and (c) Lasik Vision Institute was advertising a $299 fee for laser surgery but almost never offered that price to people who answered the ad. Under the agreement, Eyeglass World will (a) make 10,000 pairs of glasses (estimated retail value $800,000) available for donation, (b) donate a total $200,000 to three local charities, (c) provide consumer restitution, (d) pay $1 million to reimburse taxpayers for action investigation and prosecution, and (e) fully describe all terms and conditions for their products and services in future ads. Both companies are owned by Vision Care Holdings LLC, which acquired them in November 2003 after most of the alleged violations had taken place. The settlement agreement is posted on Casewatch. Additional information about the companies is posted on Quackwatch.
For-profit clinical trial industry criticized. Bloomberg Markets has published a lengthy investigative report which contends that "the clinical trial drug industry is poorly regulated, riddled with conflicts of interest—and sometimes deadly." The report spotlights (a) questionable activity by for-profit companies that are hired to conduct trials and (b) dangerous exploitation of subjects who volunteer for trials to augment their income. [Evans D and others. Big Pharma's shameful secret. Bloomberg Markets, Dec 2005]
Dental journal offers temporary free access. The Journal of the American Dental Association has launched JADA Online with full-text access to all issues from 1996 onward. After Feb 28, 2006, free access to articles that have been online for 12 months or less will be available only to ADA members and JADA subscribers.
This page was posted on December 21, 2005.