Consumer Health Digest #20-17

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
May 3, 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.

Former naturopath charged for trafficking bogus COVID-19 preventive. Former naturopath Richard Marschall has been charged with introducing misbranded drugs into interstate commerce. The case was triggered by complaints about claims on his Facebook page and Web site that a "Dynamic Duo" of substances would kill coronaviruses and boost production of white blood cells that attack infections. [Former naturopath charged criminally for trafficking in misbranded drugs claiming they could prevent COVID-19. U.S. Attorney's Office, Western District of Washington news release. April 30, 2020] Marschall operated the Natural Healing Clinic in Port Angeles, Washington, for many years. In 1998, the Washington Board of Naturopathy disciplined him for unprofessional conduct that involved treating an out-of-state patient he had not examined for "functional hypothyroidism"—an alleged condition sometimes referred to as "Wilson's Syndrome." In 2010, he was criminally convicted of illegally marketing a growth hormone product (HCG) for weight loss. In 2013, in response to this conviction, the board disciplined him again. In 2015, he surrendered his naturopathic license, but continued doing business as "Rick Marschall, N.D." at his Natural Healing Clinic. In 2017, he was convicted again for illegally marketing HCG. In 2018, Washington's Board of Naturopathy permanently prohibited him from the practice of naturopathic medicine, and from representing himself as a naturopathic physician or using the initials "ND," the title "doctor," "naturopath" or any other similar title, without the requisite health care credential. However, he continued to market himself as a "retired naturopath" and "health coach." [Barrett S. Government actions against Richard A. Marschall, N.D. Quackwatch. May 2, 2020] Because of his previous convictions, Marschall faces increased penalties for introducing misbranded drugs into interstate commerce—up to three years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Spike found in Google searches for unproven COVID-19 drugs. Researchers have found large increases in Google searches involving the terms buy, order, Amazon, eBay, or Walmart (the latter being the top three e-commerce companies) combined with chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine, presumably due to their promotion as COVID-19 therapies by Donald Trump and Elon Musk. [Liu M. and others. Internet searches for unproven COVID-19 therapies in the United States. JAMA Internal Medicine. April 29, 2020] The researchers argued:

In times of public health crises, therapies not supported by adequate evidence—such as would lead to US Food and Drug Administration approval—should not be touted by public figures. Endorsements can lead to unsupervised use of the products with dangerous consequences to the people who take them, and hoarding of these medications can result in shortages for those who require them for legitimate health reasons.

Historical and modern quackery spotlighted. Dr. Lydia Kang, author of Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything, and Dr. Stephen Barrett were featured in a 7-minute CBS Sunday Morning segment that compared quackery of the 1800s with egregious COVID-19 quackery. [Tales from the annals of medical quackery. CBS Sunday Morning. April 26, 2020]

Consumers warned about CBD and other Cannabis products. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has issued two more announcements about cannabis products marketed to consumers:

Jann Bellamy has provided an analysis of the statements, including challenges in regulating CBD products. [Bellamy J. FDA issues new CBD safety warnings, calls for more research to guide regulation. Science-Based Medicine. April 23, 2020] She concluded:

As for now, the FDA is considering issuing a "risk-based enforcement policy" clarifying what factors it will take into account in prioritizing enforcement decisions until it can figure out a final regulatory policy on CBD. During this interim, it will continue to take action "to address violations we identify that put the public at risk." As the FDA Law Blog pointed out in a November 2019 post, although FDA maintains its position that the use of CBD in food and dietary supplements is illegal, FDA enforcement has been relatively minimal. Given the agency's current, and understandable, consumption by the COVID-19 pandemic, except for the most egregious violations, I imagine CBD marketers have little to fear.

Excellent Lyme disease resource site available. LymeScience describes itself as an independent, volunteer-run patient advocacy and science education Web site with a mission of sharing reliable and helpful resources about Lyme disease. It exposes misinformation spread by so-called "Lyme literate" doctors and "Lyme warriors." It reveals the harmful impact of Lyme-related quackery including misleading patients to believe they have chronic Lyme disease and/or other dubious diagnoses. A section is devoted to medical child abuse associated with "chronic Lyme" and "chronic Lyme" advocacy groups. Another section tracks relevant legislation. The site's Rogue's Gallery includes disciplinary actions and other insights about more than 80 "Lyme literate" practitioners. Quackwatch has indexed Lyme-related FDA warning letters in addition to government actions against practitioners.

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This page was posted on May 3, 2020.