Consumer Health Digest #11-17

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
June 17, 2011

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 nonrec ommended books; and other information relevant to consumer protection and consumer decision-making.

Vitamin/MLM investment schemer indicted. Donald Lapre, whose dubious marketing activities have spanned more than 20 years, has been charged with conspiracy, mail fraud, wire fraud, and money laundering in connection with his marketing of "The Greatest Vitamin in the World." In a 2004 infomercial, Lapre claimed that his vitamin product contained "all you need for optimal health" and that independent advertisers (distributors) would get paid $1,000 or "up to $200 a month for life" every time they got 20 people to try it. But the indictment alleges:

The vitamin product's formulator, "nutritionist" Douglas D. Grant, is serving a five-year prison sentence for manslaughter unrelated to his involvement with Lapre. Quackwatch has a detailed history of their activities.

FDA escalates attack on breast thermography misuse. The FDA has warned women not to substitute breast thermography for mammography to screen for breast cancer. Unlike mammography, in which an X-ray of the breast is taken, thermography produces an infrared image that shows the patterns of heat and blood flow on or near the surface of the body. Some health care providers claim thermography is superior to mammography as a screening method for breast cancer because it does not require radiation exposure or breast compression. However, the prevailing medical opinion is that thermography has not been demonstrated to be effective in screening for breast cancer. The FDA has cleared thermography devices for use only as an additional diagnostic tool but not for use as a stand-alone device for these purposes. The agency has sent warning letters to several health care providers and a manufacturer who claim that the thermal imaging can take the place of mammography. [Thermogram no substitute for mammogram. FDA Consumer Update, June 2, 2011]

Drug companies suspected of price-gouging. Taking advantage of the FDA's 2006 Unapproved Drugs Initiative, Philadelphia-based URL Pharma Inc, performed clinical trials and in 2009 received three years of marketing exclusivity for Colcrys (a single-ingredient colchicine product) for preventing and treating gout flare-ups. The FDA also banned the sale of generic counterparts. At that time, 21 companies made oral colchicine tablets that sold for as little as 4 cents per tablet. After obtaining marketing exclusivity, URL Pharma raised the price to $5 per tablet. The average preventive dose is 2 pills a day. Four U.S. Congressional Representatives have expressed concern about the price of Colcrys and another drug (Nuedexta) and are investigating. Several reputable pharmacies outside the United States sell single-ingredient colchicine products for about 50 cents per pill.

People's Medical Society loses tax-exempt status. The Internal Revenue Service has revoked the People's Medical Society's tax-exempt status for failing to file an annual information return or notice for three consecutive years. The organization, which promoted misinformation for more than 15 years, now appears to be defunct. [Barrett S. The rise and fall of the People's Medical Society and Charles Inlander. Quackwatch, June 17, 2011]

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This page was posted on June 17, 2011.