Consumer Health Digest #06-13

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
March 28, 2006

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.

PBS features misleading "integrated medicine"report. The Public Broadcasting System has aired a 2-hour special, "The New Medicine," which portrays "integrated medicine" as a new way to provide personalized care for patients. The program states correctly that it is important to pay attention to patients' concerns and emotional needs, but it falsely portrays this as a new medical approach. Segments of the report suggest that relaxation therapy can be helpful in certain situations, but the program exaggerates its importance. Images scattered throughout the program depict the administration of acupuncture and therapeutic touch without indicating that neither has any influence on the course of any disease. A coordinated Web site states that "integrated medicine only uses complementary therapies for which there is some high-quality scientific evidence of safety and effectiveness," but its list of methods includes homeopathy, qigong, reiki, and others that are ineffective and/or based on nonsensical theories. The site also gives poor advice about finding practitioners and fails to address whether it makes sense to look for them.

Consumers Union pans hoodia. Based on lack of evidence, Consumer Reports on Health (CRH) has recommended against taking products containing Hoodia gordonii, an herb that is widely promoted as an appetite suppressant. Hoodia is a cactus extract said to keep South African tribesmen from feeling hungry during long hunts. CRH's literature search yielded only two reports: (a) an unpublished report from a manufacturer about nine volunteers who were followed for 15 days, and (2) a study in which the ingredient was injected into the brains of rats. Neither of these studies substantiates the claims made by hoodia marketers. The editors also noted that Pfizer had tried to develop hoodia into an obesity drug but had given up after failing to make an acceptable synthetic version. [Hoodia: Worth trying for weight loss? Consumer Reports on Health, Feb 2006]

Unlicensed naturopath receives 13-year sentence. Brian Edward O'Connell, has been given consecutive sentences of 5 years for theft, 5 years for perjury, and 3 years for criminally negligent homicide. He also received concurrent sentences of 12 months in the county jail for practicing medicine without a license and 24 months in jail for 3rd degree assault. For many years, O'Connell operated Mountain Area Naturopathic Associates in Wheat Ridge, Colorado, where he displayed numerous degrees and certifications claiming he was doctor and a naturopath. Investigators concluded that O'Connell had treated about 4,000 patients even though he had no license to practice medicine or naturopathy in Colorado and was not certified as any kind of health-care worker. (His only health-related "training" had come from the Herbal Healer Academy, a nonaccredited correspondence school in Arkansas.) He also testified (fraudulently) as a toxicology expert in many court cases. In this case, O'Connell was prosecuted for hastening the death of a 19-year old cancer patient by injecting a hydrogen peroxide solution. He also injected hydrogen peroxide into a 17-year-old female, which caused her to go into cardiac arrest. Another of his patients had terminal liver cancer and was told by O'Connell that a "black salve" compound would pull the cancer out of his body. Instead it created open, bleeding wounds that continued until his death. O'Connell also provided a "photoluminescence" procedure in which he would withdraw the patient's blood, run it through ultraviolet light, and inject it back into the patient's bloodstream. Earlier this year, while the jury was being selected for his trial, it came to light that O'Connell had misrepresented his toxicology-related credentials in a 1999 trial in front of the judge who was assigned to the current case. When told that prosecutors planned to file an additional perjury charge, O'Connell decided to plead guilty instead of going through the trial. [O'Connell pleads guilty during jury selection. News release, Feb 1, 2006, Office of the District Attorney of Jefferson and Gilpin Counties] Additional details about O'Connell's practices and "credentials" are spelled out in a civil suit brought against him by the parents of the 19-year-old boy. That suit was settled last year for an undisclosed sum. [Barrett S. Unlicensed naturopath facing wrongful death. Naturowatch, March 29, 2006] Questions remain about whether any of the cases in which he was permitted to testify as a toxicology expert will have to be reopened.

FDA warns WaterOz about illegal claims. The FDA has ordered WaterOz, of Granville, Idaho, to stop making illegal therapeutic claims for a dozen dietary supplement and herbal products. [Breen CM: Warning letter to Gregory W. Towerton, March 8, 2006] The company has been making such claims for several years. In 2000, the Internal Revenue Service launched a criminal investigation based on evidence that Hinkson had willfully failed to file income tax returns or pay Social Security taxes for his workers. The investigation led to the arrest of company founder David Hinkson for tax evasion, marketing adulterated drugs, selling misbranded and adulterated ozone generators, and structuring financial transactions to avoid bank currency reporting requirements. In 2004, Hinkson pleaded guilty to two of the product-violation charges and a jury found him guilty on 26 counts related to the tax misconduct. Archived versions of the WaterOz Web site show that from 2000 to 2002, the site contained "recommended protocols" for using 22 mineral products to treat about 100 "specific health issues" including AIDS, appendicitis, cancers, Down's syndrome, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, and parasites. In 2002, the 60-page WaterOz Buyer's Club catalog offered about 200 products with false claims that more than 100 diseases and conditions are caused by mineral deficiency and can be effectively treated with the products. Despite the product-violation conviction, the site continued to advertise most of the mineral products with unsubstantiated health claims. In 2005, he was sentenced to 43 years in prison for soliciting the murders of a federal judge, a federal prosecutor, and an IRS agent in retaliation for the criminal case. It is not clear whether he still owns the company. Quackwatch has additional information about Hinkson.

Dental imposter arrested. Orlando Sotolongo Guarton has been charged with Medicaid fraud and practicing dentistry without a license in Miami, Florida. Press reports indicate that he practiced for a year by pretending to be Dr. Lorenzo Puentes, a licensed dentist. During this period, he extracted teeth, provided dentures, and issued prescriptions for antibiotics and painkillers. [Barrett S. Dental imposter arrested for Medicaid fraud. Dental Watch, March 28, 2006]

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This page was revised on March 30, 2006.