Consumer Health Digest #09-35

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
August 27, 2009

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.

Chiropractor suspended for irrational and unethical practices. The Wisconsin Chiropractic Examining Board has ordered a one-year suspension of the license of Judith Ann Yager, D.C. The board's final decision and order stated that Yager had (a) practiced while her license had lapsed in early 2005, (b) used a banned device (Toftness radiation detector) to treat patients, (c) practiced outside the scope of chiropractic by diagnosing based on handwriting samples and dreams, (d) brought a chiropractor who was not licensed in Wisconsin to her clinic to adjust patients, (e) improperly engaged in a romantic and sexual relationship with a patient, and (f) provided false information to the Board while being interviewed in connection with the case. The board ordered Yager to (a) pay $3,500 for costs, (b) undergo a mental health assessment, and (c) she take 18 hours of continuing education in patient boundaries, the scope of chiropractic practice, and law and ethics for chiropractors. The board said that in six months, if she complies with the board's orders, she can petition for a stay of the suspension. However, if the assessor determines that she cannot practice safely, the board may end the stay and suspend her license until she proves that she is capable of practicing properly. Even though her diagnostic methods reflect atrocious clinical judgment, the board apparently felt that she could be rehabilitated.

The unlicensed chiropractor to which the order referred was Dick Versendaal, D.C., co-developer and chief promoter of a pseudoscientific system of diagnosis and treatment called contact reflex analysis (CRA). Versendaal claims that the body has about 75 reflex points that can be tested by touching them with one hand and pushing down on the patient's outstretched arm with the other. He claims this can locate problems with organs throughout the body that can be treated with dietary supplements. Versendaal conducted seminars in Yager's office and rendered diagnoses based on dreams described by telephone and handwriting samples that were faxed to him.

"Quack" eBook scheme stopped. The Federal Court of Australia has ordered Leanne Rita Vassallo and Aaron David Smith of Cecil Hills, New South Wales, to stop selling phony advice. For about two years, the pair operated 60 Web sites, each of which was dedicated to a particular medical condition and contained a letter from a person who allegedly had suffered from the condition and somehow discovered an effective home remedy. The sites also contained supposedly unsolicited email testimonials from "all over the world." The ads included the purported author's photograph and often included an address within the State of Washington. However, many of the sites identified the same pictures with different names and addresses. The Washington Attorney General's office determined that the names, addresses, main stories, and email testimonials were fictitious. The reports cost either $16.97 or $24.27, depending on the product sold. Prosecutors believe that more than 60,000 customers bought books at a total cost that exceeded one million U.S. dollars. The Australian judge concluded that the testimonials were bogus and ruled that the pair had engaged in false, misleading, and deceptive conduct. Describing them as "purveyors of quack medical advice and of quack medicine," he enjoined them from making the same or similar representations in the future and ordered them to pay the ACCC's investigative costs. Quackwatch has additional information and links to the court documents.

WHO advocates "shocking" cigarette labels. The World Health Organization is recommending that graphic warnings be used on all cigarette packaging. An article on the WHO Web site notes that, "Research on package warnings used in Brazil from 2002 to 2008 showed that, with few exceptions, the most unpleasant and stimulating images were those that most graphically showed physical harm or suffering. Brazil's third set of warnings, to be implemented in 2009, were tested specifically for unpleasant emotional arousal to ensure a greater potential impact on smokers' behavior." Belgium, Romania, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom also use them. The WHO recommends that countries test a variety of images and select those that prove most effective. Its report displays several that have been proven effective.

Huge cancer drug costs questioned. Two NIH scientists have urged cancer specialists, researchers, regulators, drug companies, insurance companies and the public look more closely and set limits on the use and pricing of anticancer drugs. The scientists noted that 90% of the anticancer drugs and biologics approved by the FDA during the past four years cost more than $20,000 for a 12-week regimen, but many offer an additional survival benefit of only 2 months or less. Cetuximab treatment of non-small cell lung cancer costs about $80,000 to prolong the patient's life for a median of 1.2 months. The researchers note that many studies that do produce a small survival benefit do not take into account the patient's quality of life. To illustrate the absurdity of this cost, they also extrapolate that if all 550,000 people who die of cancer each year could be kept alive for a year at equivalent cost, the total would be $440 billion without any of them being cured. [Fojo T, Grady C. How much is life worth: Cetuximab, non-small cell lung cancer, and the $440 billion question. Journal of the National Cancer Institute 101:1044-1048, 2009]

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This page was revised on August 28, 2009.