Consumer Health Digest #12-13

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
April 12, 2012

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.

Toxic and illegal ingredients found in TCM products. Australian researchers have found that many traditional Chinese medicines contain ingredients that are toxic or are derived from endangered animals. Noting that few such ingredients were disclosed on the product labels, the study leader said "There is absolutely no honesty in labeling these products." The researchers used "next-generation" genetic sequencing to test samples of 15 powders, capsules, tablets, flakes, and herbal teas that had been seized by Australian authorities. The researchers also concluded that genetic sequencing is far more effective than standard chromatographic and DNA testing of specimens, particularly in mixtures when the source of the ingredients is unclear. [Callaway E. Screen uncovers hidden ingredients of Chinese medicine: Genetic audit reveals that some traditional remedies contain endangered animals and toxic plants. Nature News, April 12, 2012]

JAMA spotlights medical waste. Investigators who have examined six ways that money was wasted within our health care system during 2011 have concluded that at least 21% of the total spent ($550 billion) was wasted and that the midpoint estimates of these categories totaled $910 billion per year. The six components were failure of care delivery ($102 to $154 billion wasted), failure of care coordination ($25 to $45 billion), overtreatment ($158 to $226 billion), unnecessary administrative complexity ($107 and $389 billion), noncompetitive pricing ($84 and $178 billion), and fraud and abuse ($82 to $272 billion). The investigators also note that broad payment and benefit cuts may harm patients and lead to a less equitable health care system, whereas reducing waste would be by far the largest and most humane approach to creating an affordable care. [Berwick DM, Hackbarth AD. Eliminating waste in US health care. JAMA 307:1513-1516, 2012]

Washington reports pertussis epidemic. Whooping cough disease has reached epidemic levels in Washington. From January 1 through March 31,640 cases were reported—which is seven times as many as the comparable period last year and has put Washington on-pace to have the highest number of reported cases in decades. State officials said that everyone age 11 and older should get a whooping cough booster (Tdap) and that this is especially important for anyone in close contact with babies younger than 12 months. [Whooping cough cases reach epidemic levels in much of Washington: All teens and adults need a whooping cough booster. Washington State Department of Health news release, April 3, 2012] Recent data from the Oregon Health Authority show that in Oregon, where the incidence of pertussis has risen steadily since 2006, most cases occur among unvaccinated and partially vaccinated children. [Pertussis: Pertinacious but still vaccine-vulnerable. CD Summary, April 10, 2012] These two states are hotbeds of naturopathy, but whether naturopathic opposition to immunization is a major factor has not been determined. Meanwhile, in California, a survey of pediatric, family practice, and internal medicine residents found that:

Phony testimonials detected. Dr. Stephen Barrett has unmasked a phony online ad system used to market a work-at-home program. Traffic is directed to one version through spam e-mail messages that say, "wow give this a look," followed by a link to a site which states that "Amy Livingston from _____ . . . . is making $15,000 to $17,000 a month working from home." The home page is coded to detect the viewer's IP address and insert its location so that "Amy Livingston" appears to live in or near the viewer's city. Other versions have similar or identical text but identify the user as "Rebecca Schwartz," Kim Ionello, Kelly Richards, and "Emily Stewart."

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This page was revised on April 15, 2012.