Consumer Health Digest #20-04
Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
January 26, 2020
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.
Founder of TCM firm jailed. Shu Yuhui, founder and chairman of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) firm Quanjian Nature Medicine Technology Development, was sentenced to nine years in prison and fined 50 million yuan (US $7.2 million) for operating a pyramid scheme. The company was fined 100 million yuan. According to the People's Court of Wuqing District of Tianjin, Quanjian was found to have lured victims with large-value rewards into buying overpriced products, becoming company members, and recruiting more people into the business since 2007. [China court jails founder of traditional medicine firm over pyramid scheme. Reuters. Jan 20, 2010] Shu and 17 others with his company were arrested in January 2019 after the death of a four-year-old girl with cancer who received TCM treatment from the company sparked anger online. [China authorities arrest 18 at TCM firm after cancer case sparks outcry. Reuters. Jan 7, 2019] The child, Zhou Yang, had been diagnosed in 2012 with sacrococcygeal teratoma—a tumor at the base of her coccyx. She had undergone surgery and was receiving chemotherapy to treat it, but her recovery had been slow. When her father was approached by Quanjian representatives in 2015, they told him that their products could help his daughter recover, leading him to take her out of hospital. Quanjian used her image to promote its products, but she died just months later. Her father tried unsuccessfully to sue for false marketing. [Zhang P. Boss of Chinese health care firm linked to four-year-old's death given nine years in prison, fined US$7.2 million. South China Morning Post. Jan 20, 2020]
Hearings recommended regarding reliance on China for drugs. As part of its 2019 Annual Report to Congress, the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission recommended that Congress investigate the productive capacity of the U.S. pharmaceutical industry, U.S. dependence on Chinese pharmaceuticals, active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs), and the ability of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ensure the safety of such imports from China. [Growing U.S. Reliance on China's Biotech and Pharmaceutical Products. Chapter 3 Section 3. U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission 2019 Annual Report] Findings of the report included:
- China is the world's largest producer of APIs.
- The United States is heavily dependent on drugs that are either sourced from China or include APIs sourced from China, especially for generic drugs, which comprise most prescriptions filled in the United States.
- Drug companies are not required to list the country of origin of APIs on their product labels.
- China's pharmaceutical industry is not effectively regulated by the Chinese government.
- Lack of data integrity in China presents challenges for U.S. and Chinese health regulators.
- The FDA struggles to guarantee the safety of drugs imported from China because of the small number of FDA inspectors in country, the large number of producers, the limited cooperation from Beijing, and the fraudulent tactics of many Chinese manufacturers.
- As a result of U.S. dependence on Chinese supply and the lack of effective health and safety regulation of Chinese producers, the American public, including its armed forces, are at risk of exposure to contaminated and dangerous medicines.
- China is the largest source of fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid, in the United States. Although the Chinese government made multiple commitments to curtail the flow of illicit fentanyl to the United States, it has failed to carry out those commitments.
An opinion piece about the report concluded:
In recent decades, we have seen increasing globalization of pharmaceutical production. This is a good thing, with the potential to ensure adequate supplies of vital medicines. But the whole system is compromised when it relies too heavily on a single, potentially unreliable source of ingredients. [Miller HI. Cohrssen JJ. Opinion: Why you should worry about drug companies' reliance on Chinese ingredients. Los Angeles Times. Dec 10, 2010]
Amazon's promotion of brain supplements blasted. An investigation by Truth in Advertising, Inc. (TINA.org) has found that Amazon promotes more than 100 deceptively marketed brain supplements for sale on its Web site by independently publishing its own marketing content to amplify the deceptive marketing messages of third-party memory-supplement vendors . TINA.org [How Amazon promotes, profits from deceptively marketed brain supplements. TINA.org. Jan 11, 2020] TINA.org reported that through sponsored search results, designations such as "Amazon's Choice" and "Editorial recommendations," star ratings, and other Amazon-specific marketing materials, Amazon has increased visibility to deceptive claims such as:
- "You will remember more easily and think better."
- "Engineered for minds over 60 years young. Aiding memory, mental clarity, and the vitality needed to put a spring back in your step for a brighter future."
- "Give your brain the nutrients it needs to form lasting memories and slow cognitive decline."
- "Reignite a tired, aging brain … boosting memory and brain function."
TINA.org believes Amazon has legal liability as a seller for these deceptive claims.
Misleading Medicare Advantage marketing exposed. Recent articles published by the Center for Medicare Advocacy, MedPage Today, and Kaiser Health News have exposed the serious problem of misleading marketing of private Medicare Advantage plans, a problem that has been neglected by health care reporters. [Schwitzer G. How easy it is to be misled by Medicare Advantage marketing. Healthnewsreview.org. Jan 17, 2020]
This page was revised on January 26, 2020.