Consumer Health Digest #09-38

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
September 17, 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.

Gonzalez "metabolic" cancer treatment flunks clinical trial. A study that compared Gonzalez therapy with standard chemotherapy for inoperable pancreatic cancer has demonstrated that Gonzalez's treatment is worthless. [Chabot JA and others. Pancreatic proteolytic enzyme therapy compared with gemcitabine-based chemotherapy for the treatment of pancreatic cancer] The researchers followed 55 patients, 23 of whom chose chemotherapy and 32 who chose Gonzalez's treatment, which included pancreatic enzymes, nutritional supplements, "detoxification" with coffee enemas, and an "organic food" diet. At enrollment, the treatment groups had no statistically significant differences in patient characteristics, pathology, quality of life, or clinically meaningful laboratory values. When the study ended, the chemotherapy patients had a median survival of 14 months, whereas the enzyme-treated groups had a median survival of 4.3 months (the expected result for people who have no treatment). At 1 year, 56% of chemotherapy-group patients were alive, but only 16% of enzyme-therapy patients were alive. The quality-of-life ratings were also better in the chemotherapy group than in the enzyme-treated group. Overall, the study demonstrated that Gonzalez's treatment did not prolong survival and lowered quality of life. Gonzalez claims that the study was improperly conducted. However, his account suggests that he tried but failed to manipulate patient selection so that those with the best prognoses would wind up in his treatment group. [Nicholas Gonzalez' response to the failed trial of the Gonzalez protocol: Disingenuous nonsense. Respectful Insolence, Sept 17, 2009]

Chiropractic class-action suits filed against insurance companies. Two suits have been filed by chiropractors against insurance companies that have tried to recover what they believe were unwarranted payments. One suit (Case No. 3:09-cv-03761), filed in New Jersey Federal Court by five practitioners and three state associations, charges that Aetna made improper repayment demands and that its post-payment audit process violates the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA). The action also claims that certain Aetna clinical policy bulletins misclassify chiropractically accepted procedures as experimental and investigational. The other suit (Case No. 1:09-cv-05619), filed in Chicago by 15 practitioners and their state associations, accuses the BlueCross BlueShield Association and a number of its state-based licensees of similar wrongdoing. The amounts of money involved in the individual payment disputes vary from a few thousand dollars to several hundred thousand. Both suits seek class-action status for all health care providers who, during the previous six years, were asked to return money based on post-payment determinations that their services were not "covered services" or "medically necessary."

Whistleblower nurses facing bizarre criminal charge. Two former Winkler County Memorial Hospital nurses who complained that Rolando G. Arafiles, M.D. was trying to sell herbal products to patients whom he had seen at his hospital's clinic are facing criminal charges as a result. In a bizarre case that has drawn national attention, Anne Mitchell and Vickilyn Galle are awaiting trial for "misuse of official information," which is a third-degree felony under Texas law. In April 2009, the Board notified Arafiles that he was being investigated and asked for several medical records. After receiving the board's notice, Arafiles asked his local sheriff to find out who had made the complaint. The nurses had complained anonymously, but information supplied by the board enabled the sheriff to figure out who they were. Subsequently, even though federal laws protect whistleblowers, the hospital fired the nurses and the district attorney was able to persuade a grand jury to indict them. The Texas Medical Board and the American Nurses Association have complained that the prosecution is improper. Mitchell and Galle have filed suit in federal court alleging not only illegal retaliation for patient advocacy activities, but also civil rights and due process violations. The defendants include Winkler County, the hospital administrator, Arafiles, the district attorney, the county attorney, and the sheriff. Their suit also alleges that Arafiles was the sheriff's doctor and that they were associates in the herbal business. [Barrett S. Whistleblowers facing outrageous criminal prosecution. Quackwatch, Sept 17, 2009]

Dietitians update fluoride position statement. The American Dietetic Association has "strongly reaffirmed" its endorsement of the use of systemic and topical fluorides, including water fluoridation, as important health promotion measures. [Position of the American Dietetic Association: The impact of fluoride on health. Journal of the American Dietetic Association 105:1620-1628, 2009]. The full text is accessible online.

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This page was revised on September 18, 2009.