Consumer Health Digest #10-11

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
March 18, 2010

Consumer Health Digest is a free weekly e-mail newsletter edited by Stephen Barrett, M.D., with help from William M. London, Ed.D., M.P.H. 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.

Telemarketing nuisance launched. Internet-based telemarketing schemes that promise great rewards may pose a threat to Web site operators who post their telephone number. Its marketers sell software that can search the Internet for phone numbers that are related to keywords that users choose. The resultant lists can then be uploaded to Web sites that broadcast up to 3,000 calls per hour for 1-2¢ per call. When combined, these programs can become a colossal nuisance. [Barrett S. Scraper Pro and Phone Broadcast Club: How to become a major nuisance in two easy steps. Quackwatch, March 17, 2010]

Naturopathic "bariatric endocrinologist" gets raided. Federal agents have raided Natural Healing Clinic in Port Angeles, Washington and seized computers, patient files, and dozens of boxes of human chorionic gonadotrophin (HCG). The clinic's proprietor is naturopath Richard (Rick) Marschall, whose Web site describes him as "primarily a bariatric endocrinologist." HCG cannot be legally marketed in interstate commerce as a weight-loss drug. The FDA became concerned about Marschall after intercepting a shipment of unapproved and misbranded HCG addressed to him from an overseas pharmacy. He also ordered (and obtained) illegally manufactured HCG from a compounding pharmacy in Florida. The search warrant affidavit indicates that Marschall told an FDA official that he prescribes HCG for infertility. However, his Web site states that he uses it for weight-loss.

In 1998, the Washington State Department of Health suspended Marschall's license for 30 months with the provision that he could continue practicing if he did not treat out-of-state patients without physically examining them and treating them in tandem with a health-care professional from the state where the patient resides. He also agreed to pay a $3,000 administrative fine and to permit a Health Department investigator to audit records and review what he was doing twice a year for a two-year period. Although no federal criminal charges have been filed, Marschall appears to be headed for serious trouble from the FDA, the Washington Department of Health, or both.

FTC finds Funeral Rule violations. Investigators working undercover found significant violations of the FTC Funeral Rule at 52 of 175 (30%) of the funeral homes visited during 2009. The Rule, enacted in 1984, requires funeral homes to give consumers an itemized price list at the start of an in-person discussion of funeral arrangements, as well as a casket price list before displaying caskets. The Rule also prohibits funeral homes from requiring purchase of any item, such as a casket, as a condition of obtaining any other good or service. By requiring itemized prices, the Rule enables consumers to compare prices and buy only the goods and services they want. The agency checks about 175 homes per year for compliance. Significant violators can enter a 3-year training program designed to increase compliance. The Funeral Rule Offenders Program is an alternative to a possible FTC lawsuit that could lead to civil penalties of up to $16,000 per violation. Run by the National Funeral Directors Association, it provides a review of the required price disclosures plus training and monitoring for compliance. Participants make a "voluntary" payment to the U.S. Treasury in place of a civil penalty and pay annual administrative fees to the Association. Since the program began in 1996, the FTC has inspected more than 2,300 funeral homes and found that 362 (16%) were substantially out of compliance. [Undercover inspections of funeral homes in nine states and Washington, D.C. press funeral homes to comply with consumer protection law. FTC news release, March 16, 2010] The FTC Web site has additional consumer information, advice, and access to a page through which violations can be reported.

Scientology severely criticized. Several prominent Church of Scientology members have resigned and publicly explained why they became dissatisfied. [Goodstein, L. Defectors say Church of Scientology hides abuse. New York Times, March 6, 2010]

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This page was revised on March 18, 2010.