Consumer Health Digest #19-04
Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
January 20, 2019
Consumer Health Digest is a free weekly e-mail newsletter edited by William M. London, Ed.D., M.P.H., with help from Stephen Barrett, M.D. 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. Its primary focus is on health, but occasionally it includes non-health scams and practical tips.
Colloidal silver suits settled. Reno, Nevada-based Beneficial Solutions LLC and its owner Russell B. Altman have been successfully sued by two women who consumed the company's colloidal silver product (NutraSilver) and then developed argyria, a condition in which silver salts deposit in the skin, eyes, and internal organs, and the skin turns ashen-gray. One of the women also developed peripheral neuropathy, a painful condition that her doctors thought was due to silver particles they could see in nerve biopsy specimens. The other woman underwent painful laser Picosure treatments to attempt to return her skin to a normal color. Both women charged that the company had falsely advertised that NutraSilver was effective treatment for a multitude of diseases and that colloidal silver particles are too small to cause argyria. Both suits were settled out of court with undisclosed payment. In 2018, the company posted a notice to its Web site stating that it had closed its doors "for personal reasons." Attorney Patrick R. Burns, who handled the suits, can represent people anywhere in the United States and offers a free consultation to anyone who may have been injured by a colloidal silver product. Background information about colloidal silver available on Quackwatch.
Chiropractic "maintenance care" promoter indicted. In 2018, Steven Wiseth, 35, who had operated Health Quest Family Chiropractic in Thief River Falls, Minnesota, was charged with six counts of wire fraud and two counts of aggravated identity theft that involved submitting false and fraudulent claims to insurance companies. The indictment alleged:
- To maximize patient volume at his clinic, Wiseth held promotional events that provided free food and drink, prizes, and gift certificates to induce current and prospective patients to visit Health Quest.
- After the promotional events, he billed insurance companies for chiropractic services to substantial numbers of individuals who had attended the events, including hundreds of services that were not provided.
- In some cases, unknown to the attendees, he used their personal and insurance information to bill their insurance companies for services that were not provided. For example, following a "ValenSpine's Day" event on February 13, 2014, he submitted bills to insurance companies for approximately 641 services provided to about 219 patients on that day.
- He also misrepresented services that were actually provided. For example, he routinely submitted false bills for treatment with a "wobble chair," a device intended to develop core strength. He falsely represented to insurers that the treatment had been performed for at least eight minutes under the direct supervision of a healthcare professional when he merely stocked his clinics' waiting rooms with wobble chairs so that patients would sit in them while waiting for their appointments.
- Over the course of the two-year scheme, he billed the insurance companies more than $3.1 million dollars, including bills for hundreds of treatments that were not provided or were overbilled, and the insurance companies paid him and Health Quest more than $1.1 million.
In 2017, after the Minnesota State Board of Chiropractic Examiners became aware of his alleged wrongdoing, Wiseth entered into a consent agreement under which he voluntarily surrendered his chiropractic license for a minimum of three years. Graphics posted to his Facebook page assert that (a) everyone should have periodic spinal checkups and adjustments from birth onward, (b) chiropractic is generally safer and more effective than medical care, (c) prescription drugs are generally unsafe and should be avoided, and (d) vaccines are ineffective and dangerous. [Barrett S. Graphic messages from a chiropractor's Facebook page. Chirobase, Jan 22, 2019]
Pseudomedicine for dementia and brain health blasted. Physicians at the Memory and Aging Center at the University of California, San Francisco have written a viewpoint article critical of:
- the dietary supplement industry, which sells and estimated $3.2 billion per year of products claimed to improve cognition and brain health
- licensed medical professionals who offer interventions (such as intravenous nutrition, personalized detoxification, chelation therapy, antibiotics, and stem cell therapy) to address unsubstantiated causes of neurodegenerative disease (e.g., metal toxicity, mold exposure, and Lyme disease)
- medical professionals who combine supplements and unproven lifestyle changes with known dementia interventions (e.g., cognitive training, exercise, and a heart-healthy diet) and misrepresent that program as a unique holistic and personal approach.
[Hellmuth J. Rabinovici GD. Miller BL. The rise of pseudomedicine for dementia and brain health. JAMA, Jan 25, 2019]
High prices of eyeglasses criticized. Consumer affairs writer David Lazarus believes that "prescription eyewear represents perhaps the single biggest mass-market consumer ripoff to be found." In a recent column, he concludes:
- Consumers often pay 10 to 20 times what it costs to prepare eyeglass frames and lenses for consumers.
- The high cost of frames reflects a market that is woefully lacking in meaningful competition.
- Many brands of designer frames are owned and licensed by one company, EssilorLuxotica.
- The markup on glasses "would make a luxury car dealer blush, with retail costs from start to finish bearing no relation to reality."
[Lazarus D. Why are glasses so expensive? The eyewear industry prefers to keep that blurry. Los Angeles Times. Jan 22, 2019]
Flu-symptom nostrum widely available in Montreal pharmacies. The McGill Office for Science and Society has found that 99 of 150 pharmacies on the Island of Montreal carry Oscillococcinum, a nonsensical homeopathic cold and flu-symptom remedy made "by taking one duck's heart and liver, dissolving it in pancreatic juice, and diluting the liquid so many times that Boiron ends up with nary a single molecule of the original duck in the final solution, which is used to moisten a sugar globule." [Jarry J. Two-thirds of Montreal pharmacies sell this quack flu buster. McGill Office for Science and Society. Jan 10, 2019] Canadian pharmacist Scott Gavura is not surprised by the finding. He notes:
This isn't just an issue for Quebec—it's a worldwide issue for the profession of pharmacy. Given the ethics of homeopathy, it's disappointing to see some pharmacy associations change their codes of ethics to facilitate the sale of homeopathy, rather than simply removing them from pharmacy shelves. In contrast, other pharmacy associations are calling for their removal, as we're seeing in Australia. [Gavura S. Pharmacies continue to sell sugar pills as flu remedy. Science-Based Medicine, Jan 24, 2019]
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