Consumer Health Digest #12-33
Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
September 27, 2012
Consumer Health Digest is a free weekly e-mail newsletter edited by Stephen Barrett, M.D., with help from William M. London, Ed.D., M.P.H. 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.
Stem cell scammers plead guilty. Francisco Morales of Brownsville, Texas and Lawrence Stowe, a former Fort Worth resident, have pleaded guilty to conspiracy to introduce misbranded and unapproved new drugs into interstate commerce. [Convictions entered in two separate Texas cases involving stem cells. USDOJ news release, Sept 2, 2012] According to their indictments:
- The defendants distributed and used stem cells produced from umbilical cord blood to treat persons suffering from cancer, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), multiple sclerosis (MS) and other serious diseases.
- From 2007 to 2010, Morales, who falsely represented that he was a licensed physician in the United States, operated the Rio Valley Medical Clinic in Brownsville, Texas, but would travel to Mexico to perform the stem cell procedures on his patients.
- Stowe, who sometimes pretended to be a doctor, also operated The Stowe Foundation and Stowe Biotherapy Inc., through which he promoted and marketed stem cells and other unapproved drug and biological products for the treatment of cancer, ALS, MS and Parkinson's disease.
In 2010, CBS's "60 Minutes" aired a hard-hitting undercover report about the defendants' activities. [21st century snake oil: "60 Minutes" cameras expose medical con men who prey on dying victims. CBS News, April 18, 2010] Two other participants in the scheme are scheduled for trial in November.
Prominent psychiatric critic dies. Thomas Szasz, M.D., whose books argued that psychiatrists had too much power, died this month at the age of 92. Beginning in the 1960s, Szasz railed against involuntary treatment and reliance of the courts on psychiatric opinions and treatment rather than criminal prosecution and imprisonment. In addition, he helped found and for many years lent his name and support to the Citizens Commission on Human Rights, a Scientology offshoot that has called for the "eradication" of psychiatry. Szasz made some valid points, but he went too far by asserting that people should be held accountable for their behavior and even permitted to commit suicide even if their mental state makes them temporarily unable to care for themselves. The development of effective drugs and greater legal safeguards against involuntary hospitalization rendered most of his criticisms obsolete, but his writings remain a rallying point for psychiatric critics. [Carey B. Dr. Thomas Szasz, psychiatrist who led movement against his field, dies at 92. The New York Times Sept 11, 2012]
Medifast subsidiary settles FTC charges. Jason Pharmaceuticals, which sells Medifast brand low-calorie meal substitutes, has agreed to pay a $3.7 million civil penalty to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that it violated a 1992 FTC settlement agreement by making unsupported claims about its weight-loss program. The FTC had charged that the company had made unsupported representations that (a) consumers using Medifast programs would lose 2-5 pounds each week, (b) the experiences of consumer endorsers in their ads were typical, and (c) product users would lose more than 30 pounds. The new settlement prohibits Jason from misrepresenting that users of any low-calorie meal replacement program can expect to achieve the same results that an endorser does, lose a particular amount of weight, or maintain the weight loss. The company is also prohibited from making any other misleading representation about the health benefits, safety, or side effects of any low-calorie meal replacement program. [Subsidiary of diet plan marketer Medifast Inc. to Pay $3.7 million to settle FTC charges. FTC news release, Sept 10, 2012]
This page was posted on September 30, 2012.