Consumer Health Digest #19-09
Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
March 3, 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.
Jail time for herbalist who urged boy off insulin. A Los Angeles jury has found Timothy Morrow, 84, who has touted himself on his commonsenseherbs.com site as a "master herbalist," guilty of one count of practicing medicine without a license. Morrow also pleaded "no contest" to one count of child abuse likely to produce great bodily injury or death. The court sentenced him to 120 days in county jail, 48 months of summary probation, and a $5,000 fine. The court also required him to: (a) pay restitution for all funeral expenses incurred by the family of a 13-year-old boy he treated with herbs while urging against using insulin, (b) remove or withdraw all publications and videos that advocate herbs instead of medical advice or medicine, (c) include a legible warning label on all of defendant's herbal products, and (d) complete a one-year child abuser's counseling program. Morrow was also given a Watson Advisement, which states that if he continues such acts and they lead to the death of another person, he can be charged with murder. [City Attorney Mike Feuer secures jail time, restitution against herbalist for unlicensed practice of medicine and for child abuse likely to cause death. L.A. City Attorney news release. Feb 25, 2019]
Press accounts have identified the boy as Edgar Lopez. His mother testified that she had first met Morrow by attending several of his seminars on herbal medicine and was so impressed that she agreed to recruit new clients for Morrow and ultimately earned $753 in commissions. Morrow allegedly:
- began to treat Edgar for his Type 1 diabetes in 2014.
- used iridology to diagnose him. ['Master herbalist' case: Chilling 911 call played in court as Timothy Morrow stands trial in boy's death. ABC30 Fresno. Feb 9, 2019]
- visited the family's home three times in the two days before the boy's death in August 2014 and told them that instead of insulin prescribed by the boy's pediatrician, Edgar needed herbs and reflexology to release toxins from his body.
- assured Edgar's parents that everything was fine, there was no need to listen to doctors, and that her son was going through a "healing crisis" that would eventually cure his diabetes permanently.
Edgar weighed just 68 pounds when he died. The medical examiner determined that the boy would have lived had he received proper medical treatment. [Farzan AN. Washington Post. A 13-year-old died after being told not to take insulin. Now the California herbalist is headed to jail. The Mercury News. Feb 26, 2019] A pastor has stated that his late wife, who was diagnosed with uterine cancer in 2016, was persuaded by Morrow not to get treatment that could have extended her life. [Hernandez M. Bartley L. 'Master herbalist' case: Pastor says his late wife was a victim of Torrance herbalist. KABC. Feb 19, 2019]
Anti-vax chiropractor surrenders license. In September 2018, the Nova Scotia College of Chiropractors (NSCC) ordered Dena Churchill, D.C. to undergo a fitness-to-practice evaluation by psychologist Richard MacGillivray, who concluded that she was mentally unfit to practice. After receiving Dr. MacGillivray's report, the NSCC concluded that Churchill was professionally incompetent and suspended her license pending a hearing. In November 2018, Churchill was formally notified that the College considered advice about vaccination and immunization on her Web site and social media platforms to be (a) outside the scope of chiropractic, (b) untruthful marketing activity, and (c) contrary to the chiropractic regulations and the College's vaccination and immunization policy, code of ethics, scope of practice policy, advertising guideline, and social media policy and guidelines. Rather than undergoing a hearing, Churchill surrendered her license and entered into a settlement in which she admitted to "incompetence arising out of mental incapacity." She also agreed to pay costs of CN$6,000 and to not reapply for a license to practice in Nova Scotia unless she provides a qualified medical opinion that she is competent and fit to practice. In May 2018, CBC News reported that Churchill had falsely claimed that vaccines were untested, caused autism, caused cancer, and that coffee enemas and essential oils are effective against tumors. [Barrett S. Anti-vax chiropractor Dena Churchill surrenders license. Casewatch. March 2, 2019]
Guidelines released on selecting mental health therapies. The Colorado Department of Human Services Office of Children, Youth and Families (OCYF) has issued an 18-page guide for consumers and mental health professionals that outlines "principles of safe, effective therapies to treat mental health or behavioral concerns as well as characteristics of ineffective or potentially harmful therapies." The report can be downloaded free of charge. [Colorado Guidelines for Selecting Mental Health Therapies. OCYF, January 2, 2019] Quackwatch has listed several procedures that should be avoided.
Fake paid product reviews on Amazon challenged. According to a complaint by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Cure Encapsulations, Inc. and its owner, Naftula Jacobowitz:
- paid a Web site, amazonverifiedreviews.com, to create and post Amazon reviews of their product "Quality Encapsulations Garcinia Cambogia Extract with HCA" capsules.
- falsely claimed that the product is an appetite-suppressing, fat-blocking, weight-loss pill.
Jacobowitz allegedly told the site's operator that the product needed to have an average rating of 4.3 out of 5 stars in order to have sales and to, "Please make my product . . . stay a five star." The reviews were posted on Amazon and were represented as truthful and written by actual purchasers, when in reality they were fabricated. The FTC's complaint also alleges that the defendants made false and unsubstantiated claims on their Amazon product page, including through the purchased reviews, that their garcinia cambogia product is a "powerful appetite suppressant," "Literally BLOCKS FAT From Forming," causes significant weight loss, including as much as twenty pounds, and causes rapid and substantial weight loss, including as much as two or more pounds per week.
- prohibits the defendants from making weight-loss, appetite-suppression, fat-blocking, or disease-treatment claims for any dietary supplement, food, or drug unless they have competent and reliable scientific evidence in the form of human clinical testing supporting the claims.
- requires them to have competent and reliable scientific evidence to support any other claims about the health benefits or efficacy of such products.
- prohibits them from making misrepresentations regarding endorsements, including that an endorsement is truthful or by an actual user.
- requires the defendants to email notices to consumers who bought the capsules detailing the FTC's allegations regarding their efficacy claims.
- requires the defendants to notify Amazon, Inc. that they purchased Amazon reviews of their Quality Encapsulations Garcinia Cambogia capsules and to identify to Amazon the purchased reviews.
- imposes a judgment of $12.8 million, which will be suspended upon payment of $50,000 to the Commission and the payment of certain unpaid income tax obligations.
If the defendants are later found to have misrepresented their financial condition to the FTC, the full amount of the judgment will immediately become due. [FTC brings first case challenging fake paid reviews on an independent retail website. FTC news release. Feb 26, 2019]
This page was posted on March 3, 2019.