Consumer Health Digest #20-33

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
August 23, 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.


Presidential candidates' health care positions contrasted. The Kaiser Family Foundation has posted a slide show contrasting Donald Trump's health policy record with Joe Biden's health proposals concerning twelve issues: COVID-19 response, the Affordable Care Act marketplace, a federal public health insurance option, Medicaid, Medicare, prescription drug prices, reproductive health, HIV policy, mental health and opioids, immigration and health coverage, long-term care, and lowering health costs. [Health care and the 2020 presidential election. KFF, Aug 20, 2020]


Members of U.S. Congress graded on drug prices. Prescription Justice has created a Drug Prices Congressional Report Card, which grades all members of the U.S. Congress concerning the crisis of high drug prices. The ratings are based on their: (a) votes, (b) sponsorship and co-sponsorship of bills on drug prices, (3) campaign donations from pharmaceutical manufacturers, and (d) soft data, specifically drug price positions articulated on members' websites. Each member receives a grade ranging from A+ to F with details related to the grading criteria. Members can improve their grades by concurring with the Prescription Justice Pledge. [Americans need to hold the U.S. Congress accountable for the world's highest drug prices. Prescription Justice, Aug 4, 2020]


FDA offers guidance on UVC lamps for disinfection. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has provided information for consumers who may consider purchasing an ultraviolet-C (UVC) lamp to disinfect surfaces during the COVID-19 pandemic. [UV lights and lamps: ultraviolet-c radiation, disinfection, and coronavirus. FDA, Aug 19, 2020] Key points include:


Ads for intravenous nutrients against COVID-19 blasted. TruthInAdvertising.org has: (a) identified more than 40 clinics advertising deceptive COVID-19 prevention and treatment claims for intravenous nutrient therapies in violation of federal law, and (b) posted a three-minute video with clips from Instagram and YouTube of deceptive claims made for intravenous therapies. [IV therapies and COVID-19. The drip, drip, drip of deceptive claims. TruthInAdvertising.org, June 3, 2020] The problem is compounded by wellness bloggers and celebrities on social media who are also making unsubstantiated claims of health benefits for IV drips. While an IV drip can cost hundreds of dollars, drips are no substitute for social distancing and wearing masks. [Liebelson D. IV drips don't cure COVID, but that hasn't stopped people flocking to them. Elle, Aug 5, 2020] The Federal Trade Commission has warned at least 49 companies to stop making unsubstantiated claims that their intravenous nutrient drips can treat or prevent COVID-19.


Oleandrin baselessly promoted as COVID-19 therapy. Oleandrin is the chemical from the plant Nerium oleander (oleander) that is responsible for the toxic effects that the plant parts have on the heart. [Quave C. Oleandrin is a deadly plant poison, not a COVID-19 cure. The Conversation, Aug 18, 2020] The Natural Medicines database rates oleander as "LIKELY UNSAFE" to take by mouth and identifies no health problems that oleander can effectively treat. Oleander is an ingredient in a few herbal concoctions on the market. It's also the supposedly active ingredient in several homeopathic products. Claims that oleandrin has anti-viral activity are based on a single pre-clinical study that has not been peer-reviewed and merely found that oleandrin has activity against the virus in a test tube. [Novella S. Oleandra—the new COVID snake oil. Science-Based Medicine, Aug 19, 2020]  Nevertheless, after meeting with two oleandrin enthusiasts—MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, MD—President Trump has expressed interest in permitting oleandrin to be marketed as a dietary supplement or approved as a COVID-19 drug. [Swan J. Trump eyes new unproven coronavirus "cure". Axios, Aug 16, 2020] This month Lindell reportedly joined the board of Phoenix Biotechnology, which makes oleandrin, and received a financial stake in the company. [Klein B. Trump 'enthusiastic' over unproven coronavirus therapeutic, MyPillow creator says. CNN, Aug 17, 2020] In a televised interview with Anderson Cooper, Lindell claimed that 1,000 people took oleandrin in 2016 without having adverse reactions, but he was unable to cite the supposed study. [Cilizza C. Anderson Cooper just exposed the coronavirus quackery of one of Donald Trump's most loyal allies. CNN, Aug 18, 2020] Phoenix Biotechnology has referred to studies carried out at University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center that supposedly showed a lack of toxicity. However, the studies have not been published. Joe Schwarcz, PhD concluded:

There are many cases of animals and people having been poisoned by oleander, sometimes on purpose. In Sri Lanka, unfortunately, the plant has become a common means for suicide, prompting the government to take steps to eradicate it and prohibit its cultivation as an ornamental plant. At this point, it is totally irresponsible to recommend any oleander product as having efficacy against COVID-19. When I hear this kind of nonsense, I feel like putting a pillow over my head. And it will not be "MyPillow." [Schwarcz J. Planting a toxic oleander seed. McGill Office for Science and Society, Aug 19, 2020]


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This page was posted on August 23, 2020.