Consumer Health Digest #20-18

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
May 10, 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.


Weakness of health agencies in combating misinformation spotlighted. A superb new article argues that health officials need better ways to counter online misinformation. [Diresta R. Virus experts aren't getting the message out. The Atlantic. May 6, 2020] It concludes:

Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube bear significant responsibility for the information environment for which they are hosts, curators, and amplifiers. But they can only do so much. If institutions and authority figures don't adapt to the content and conversation dynamics of the day, other things will fill the void. The time for institutions and authorities to begin communicating transparently is before wild speculation goes viral. Preventing epidemics of misinformation from spreading is easier than curing them once they've taken hold.

Dr. Stephen Barrett believes that Facebook is becoming a more responsible information curator. [Barrett S. Facebook is combating vaccine misinformation. Quackwatch. April 25, 2020] He argues:

Will Facebook harm our society by restricting the flow of health misinformation? I don't believe so. Facebook plays an extremely important role in helping people share ideas and experiences. That value will not diminish. People who want to share harmful ideas or organize campaigns will still have many other ways to do so. Facebook can perform a great public service by making it harder for anti-public health groups to mislead people and organize their noxious campaigns. In addition, marginalizing them will, by itself, send a powerful educational message. If I were running Facebook, I would remove the pages of all groups that oppose public health measures.


Illuminating article on "holistic" therapies updated. A newly updated and expanded 73-page analysis of homeopathy, naturopathy, energy medicine, aromatherapy, craniosacral therapy, iridology, reflexology, therapeutic touch, reiki, and other "holistic" methods is now available on the website of the Kentucky Council Against Health Fraud. [Wheeler TJ. A scientific look at alternative medicine: homeopathy, naturopathy, energy medicine, and other "holistic" approaches. KyCAHF. 2020 revision] The KyCAHF Web site and Facebook page both provide insightful consumer updates by Thomas Wheeler, Ph.D. who was an associate professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at the University of Louisville School of Medicine. In 1992, Dr Wheeler began teaching an elective course on "alternative medicine," one of the few medical school courses on this subject that provides a critical, scientific perspective. The KyCAHF site includes revised handouts from his course. The site is a superior alternative to expensive, recently published textbooks used in "alternative" or "integrative" medicine courses. Consumer Health: A Guide to Intelligent Decisions offers another alternative.


"Free trial" cosmetic and supplement marketing scheme halted. The operators of an online subscription scheme agreed to settle a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) complaint alleging that the defendants duped consumers out of more than $74.5 million by luring them with supposedly "free trial" offers for cosmetics and dietary supplements, but billing them for subscriptions without their consent. According to the FTC's July 2019 complaint, since at least April 2016, AH Media Group, LLC (AH Media) and the company's owners, Henry Block and Alan Schill allegedly:

In October 2019, the FTC filed an amended complaint that added Zanelo, LLC as a defendant. The proposed settlement order against Schill and Zanelo:

The proposed order against AH Media and Block contains the same conduct provisions but imposes a $67 million judgment against them. The monetary judgments in both orders are partially suspended. The defendants are required to turn over only approximately $4,345,000, which may be used to provide refunds to defrauded consumers. [FTC halts online subscription scheme that deceived people with "free trial" offers. FTC press release. May 8, 2020] It appears that consumers who were duped by the scheme will get little of their money back.


Generic pharmaceutical company admits to cholesterol drug price-fixing. Florida-based Apotex Corp. has agreed to pay a $24.1 million criminal penalty and admit that it conspired with other generic drug sellers to artificially raise the price of pravastatin. According to a Justice Department news release:


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This page was posted on May 10, 2020.