In February 1994, Gloria Ramirez died in the emergency room of Riverside General Hospital (RGH). The incident received national attention because a syringe of Ramirez's blood emitted an ammonia-like odor that caused nurse Susan Kane to faint. Senior resident, Dr. Julie Gorchynski who had moved in to take Kane's place saw yellow crystals in the blood. She too reacted severely suffering organic damage to her liver, pancreas, kidneys and heart.
The cause of the damaging fumes has been a matter of investigation and speculation ever since. NCAHF staff immediately wondered if mysterious fumes were due to some quack cancer remedy. Media reports noted that Ramirez was thought to have had chemotherapy that day for her cancer, but that her oncologist had stated that he had not treated her.
NCAHF people know that cancer quacks inject some strange chemicals as "miracle cures." Now comes a report from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory's (LLNL) forensic scientists that hypothesizes that Rameriz had DMSO in her blood, and that the chemical had transformed first to DMSO2 and then to lethal DMSO4 (nerve gas) a whiff of which would be enough to produce the reactions seen in the emergency room staff. This scenario was laid out in The Riverside Press-Enterprise (11/4/94).
Attorneys who want to hold the hospital responsible theorizing that some undisclosed failure to control toxic wastes may have been responsible are resistant to the LLNL explanation, possibly because RGH is the only "deep-pocket" available to compensate victims. The evidence may never be strong enough to convince those with a vested interest, but given the promotion of DMSO by cancer quacks and its availability in the area, NCAHF sees the LLNL theory as compelling.
Although an increasing number of reports of harm associated with using herbal remedies are being seen, we are seeing just the tip of the iceberg.
An example of how difficult it can be to discover the harm of herbal products can be seen in the case of the sudden death of a 37-year-old, previously healthy California woman who had been using an herbal tea (Laci Le Beau Super Dieter's Tea) for weight loss. Her husband, a product liability attorney, used his skills to trace the product's safety record. The health food chain that marketed the product denied that any harm had been associated with its product.
The FDA required that he submit a request through the Freedom of Information Act before it would disclose its records. FDA records revealed that the health food company had lied to him. Many reports existed including the death of a 17-year-old girl who had survived long enough for it to be determined that she suffered from severe potassium depletion which was consistent with what might be expected from the product which contained herbs known to have diuretic (uva ursi), stimulant (ginseng), and laxative (senna) effects.
Autopsy results of his deceased wife could only establish that her death had been due to natural causes (ie, not at the hands of another). It was not possible to prove potassium depletion at autopsy because cells begin to lyse potassium immediately after death. The husband's attempts to get the coroner to pursue the matter as a wrongful death brought only the advice that he should put this unfortunate incident behind him and get on with his life. He has refused to do this because, as a product liability attorney, he is outraged that the herbal industry is able to operate so irresponsibly, and he feels a moral obligation to try to correct this injustice. He says that he is also motivated by his little boy who wonders where his mommy has gone.
A detailed account of the failure of the health food company that markets the tea to warn consumers, and the failure of state and federal regulatory agencies to protect consumers was detailed in Probe (5/1/94).
Minnesota Attorney General Hubert Humphrey III obtained a $675,000 settlement with the Upjohn Company in which it will no longer pay pharmacists to switch diabetics from its old prescription drug Micronase to its new product Glycase PresTab.
Upjohn's patent on Micronase had expired, so in order to prevent generic drug competition Upjohn solicited thousands of pharmacists to switch patients to the new patented product and paid them for each drug switch that they achieved. The two products are not bioequivalent which required patients to be re-evaluated medically. To get around antikickback laws, Upjohn called this a "Cognitive Services Reimbursement Program," but did not pay pharmacists for "cognitive services" unless it resulted in conversion to Glycase PresTab.
Humphrey will try to get the FDA and other Attorneys General to stop drug companies from paying pharmacists for inducing people to use specific prescription drug products.
[8/1/94 Minnesota AG Press release]
Searching For Magic Bullets: Orphan Drugs, Consumer Activism, and Pharma-ceutical Development (Haworth, 1994, 240 pp) describes the historical development of the drug approval process in the USA, including drug research and marketing; discusses the issues and outcomes regarding controversial consumer-demanded drugs such as orphan drugs, underground distribution systems, drug diversion, illegal importation and so forth; and, provides information on how consumers can influence the process.
A particularly strong asset is the book's many listings of practical guidelines for judging drug information, decision-making, and patient guidance. These can be highly useful to health educators, professionals, and consumers alike. Authors are Lisa Basara, PhD (cand.), RPh, MBA (U. Miss.) and Micheal Montagne, RPh, PhD (U. Mass.). It is available from Pharmaceutical Products Press, 10 Alice St., Binghamton, NY 13904-1580; 19.95 soft, 39.95 hard.
Therapeutic Touch (TT) was spreading through the nursing profession unimpeded until the Rocky Mountain Skeptics (RMS) challenged its use on scientific grounds. When the Colorado Nursing Board (CNB) failed to act, the RMS went to the press. Investigative journalism did what public input to the CNB could not--it attracted the attention of the University of Colorado Board of Regents (UCBR) which appointed a special task force to evaluate the teaching and use of TT at the university.
Although the UCBR report was critical, it permitted TT believers to continue practicing under the guise of academic freedom. Now Time magazine (11/21/94) has focused attention on TT making the clique of highly-placed nursing politicos responsible for TT's proliferation look like a coven of Shirley Maclaine wannabees. Some critics say that underlying TT is a kind of ecofeminism that extols women's intuition and mysticism as superior to male-dominated medical science. TT is a ritual based upon the notion that energy exists as a separate entity and can be transferred from nurse to patient.
The TT procedure involves: (1) Centering: a meditative process; (2) Assessment: healer scans patient's alleged energy fields with the hands searching for temperature changes, tingling, pressure or pulsation; (3) Unruffling the field: when healer perceives a sense of pressure while scanning the body she/he is said to be bumping against stagnant energy--the procedure is to sweep the energy downward with the hands paving the way for an energy transfer; (4) Transfer of Energy to healee.
Despite terminology, TT practitioners do not actually touch patient--in other words, TT involves "non-contact touch" -- a typical new age oxymoron.
In 1989 ABC News 20/20 aired "The Biting Pain" which focused upon abuses by dentists who over diagnose and/or mistreat TMJ (jaw joint and muscle pain) problems. Center City, PA dentist Owen J. Rogal, who had diagnosed TMJ disorders in virtually all of his patients, about 6,000 over 9 years, was the subject of reporter John Stossel's undercover investigation. Stossel, who had no jaw problems, was diagnosed by Rogal as needing a $3,000 treatment regimen. NCAHF's John Dodes, DDS, served as a consultant to 20/20 during the project. In 1992, Rogal sued ABC for libel claiming that he had been portrayed as a charlatan. Rogal and his attorney were unsuccessful in their attempt to convince a federal jury of their claims even using lies under oath. In September, federal judge Joseph McGlynn has slapped Rogal and his attorney M. Mark Mendel with fines of $256,000 and $13,573 respectively for perjury. (Philadelphia Inquirer, 9/30/94)
Blue Cross of Washington and Alaska will try a pilot program in which it will cover services by a select group of 13 homeopaths and naturopaths in the Seattle area. The "AlternPath Nontraditional Health Care Program" will be limited to 1,000 Washington residents for approximately one-year at a cost of $170 per person. It will provide $1000 of services with a 20% copayment. (Homeopathy Today, June, 1994)
Holt Health, a health education textbook published by Holt, Rinehart, Winston (1994) has been accused of explicitly endorsing "superstitions and magical rubbish," and depicting such as an equivalent alternative to scientific medicine by William J. Bennetta, editor of The Textbook Letter.
Bennetta expresses outrage over the book's presentation of superstitious folk medicine as being on a par with regular medicine under the guise of "cultural diversity." Shamans are equated to medical doctors, folk remedies to tested medications, and mystical mumbo-jumbo to scientifically determined information. The textbook presents its ideas in a style Bennetta dubs bafflegab which combines obscurity with delusion.
The fanciful notion of a "life force" is presented as if it were a factual basis for acupuncture. It is impossible to do justice to Bennetta's penetrating critique which covers five pages and includes several illustrations. Readers who would like to have a copy can obtain one by writing to the California Textbook League, P.O. Box 51, Sausalito, CA 94966.
Police were called to restore order at a Hamilton, Ontario Inn where a self-proclaimed expert was advancing her drug-free treatment for Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). Sandra Starr, who uses the title "doctor" on the basis of a correspondence course doctorate from unaccredited California Coast University, was using the lecture to convince parents of ADD children to sign up for an additional 6-hour, $375 session to learn about her secret method. 90 minutes into her lecture, about 80 parents, who had paid $25 to hear her, demanded that she get to the point and reveal something that they hadn't heard before. It turns out that Starr preaches "detoxification" and vitamin treatments. Like most gurus, she has a few disciples who credit her with helping them, but can offer no objective evidence that what is being accomplished is anything more than a placebo effect*.
[The Spectator, 10/25&26/94]