Consumer Health Digest #05-25

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
June 21, 2005


Consumer Health Digest is a free weekly e-mail newsletter edited by Stephen Barrett, M.D., and cosponsored by NCAHF and Quackwatch. 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.


FTC slams HGH spammer. Creaghan A. Harry, who did business as Hitech Marketing, Scientific Life Nutrition, and Rejuvenation Health Corporation, has agreed to pay $485,000 in consumer redress to settle FTC charges that he used millions of illegal spam messages to tout bogus anti-aging properties of HGH herbal supplements. The settlement bars the Boca Raton, Florida-based defendant from making unsubstantiated claims about any product sold over the Internet. The FTC’s complaint, filed in July 2004, charged that Harry violated the FTC Act by making false claims, and violated the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act of 2003 (CAN-SPAM Act) by sending e-mail that disguised its source, did not provide a way for recipients to opt-out of receiving future messages, and did not give a valid physical postal address. The FTC says that 40,000 spam messages claiming Harry’s products would stop or reverse the aging process, cause weight loss, increase muscle, or regrow hair and remove wrinkles, ended up in the FTC’s spam database at spam@uce.gov. The settlement also contains a suspended judgment of $5.9 million that would become due if the FTC concludes that Harry underestimated his financial status. [Florida man settles FTC charges of sending illegal spam and making false "human growth hormone" product claims, FTC news release, June 15, 2005]


FDA will appeal Utah ephedra ruling. The FDA has notified the court that it will appeal the Utah judge's ruling to limit the agency's ability to ban the selling of ephedra products as dietary supplements. [Nutraceutical Corporation and Solaray, Inc., v. Lester Crawford et al. Case No. 2:04CV409 TC] The ruling prohibits the agency from taking action against Nutraceutical Corporation, a Utah-based company that sued to block the ban. The 1994 Dietary Supplement and Health Education Act (DSHEA) states that to ban a product, the FDA must prove that it poses an "unreasonable risk of illness or injury." Ephedra products have been linked to several deaths and thousands of complaints from consumers, many of whom have filed lawsuits. The FDA has concluded that "in the absence of a sufficient benefit, the presence of even a relatively small risk of an important adverse health effect to a user may be unreasonable." But the judge ruled that to ban all ephedra products, the FDA would have to prove that they are unsafe "when used as recommended and suggested in the labeling." Concluding that a single dose of Nutraceutical's 10 mg product would not be dangerous, the judge ruled that the FDA could not stop the sale of dietary supplements containing 10 mg or less of ephedra alkaloids. He also ruled that DSHEA did not permit the FDA to compare benefits and risks as part of its evaluation of unreasonable risk. (In other words, whether a product is completely worthless is not relevant to judging whether it is reasonable to permit it to continue to be sold.) The New York Times and Consumers Union urged the FDA to appeal.


Former chelation therapist indicted for insurance fraud. Tadeusz Skowron, M.D., of Avon, Connecticut has been charged with one count of health care fraud. [Doctor charged with health care fraud. USDOJ press release, June 8, 2005] The indictment states that Skowron, whose medical license was suspended in June 2004, continued to treat Medicare patients and billed the Medicare program for services rendered to 39 patients. If convicted, he faces a maximum term of imprisonment of 10 years and a fine of up to $250,000.


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This page was posted on June 21, 2005.