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:
- pitched at least eight different product lines to consumers
- primarily sold cosmetics and dietary supplements with claims that they promote younger-looking skin or weight loss
- used deceptive websites to charge consumers for both the "trial" product and ongoing monthly subscription plans
- claimed consumers would have to pay only a small shipping and handling fee for the trial, while hiding the actual cost
- charged consumers after two weeks $90 for the trial product and enrolled them in unwanted and costly negative option subscription plans
- used a network of shell companies and straw owners to process consumer payments
- circumvented underwriting requirements and monitoring programs by using dozens of nominally distinct companies and made it more difficult to be detected by consumers and law enforcement.
In October 2019, the FTC filed an amended complaint that added Zanelo, LLC as a defendant. The proposed settlement order against Schill and Zanelo:
- bans them from misrepresenting any fact material to consumers concerning any good or service
- requires them to provide clear and conspicuous disclosures regarding fees and refunds requires the defendants to obtain the express consent from consumers before charging them or debiting money from their bank accounts
- requires that they get preauthorization before making any electronic fund transfers
- imposes the $74.5 million judgment against them
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:
- Apotex communicated with competitors about the price increase and subsequently refrained from submitting competitive bids to customers that previously purchased pravastatin from a competing company.
- The case is the result of an ongoing federal antitrust investigation into price fixing, bid rigging, and other anticompetitive conduct in the generic pharmaceutical industry.
- Under a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA), Apotex will cooperate fully with the Antitrust Division's investigation and the Justice Department will temporarily defer prosecution.
- Cases against three other generic manufacturers have been resolved with DPAs.
- Three individuals have entered guilty pleas for price-fixing and a fourth is awaiting trial. [Generic pharmaceutical company admits to fixing price of widely used cholesterol medication. U.S. Department of Justice news release. May 7, 2020]
This page was posted on May 10, 2020.