Consumer Health Digest #02-17

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
April 23, 2002


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.


Rexall Sundown hit for deceptive marketing of calcium supplements. After week-long class-action trial, a jury has sided with New Jersey consumers who alleged that Rexall Sundown Inc had marketed and labeled two calcium products in violation of the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act. The largest amount of calcium that can fit into a pill without making it too large is about 600 mg. Most calcium supplements range from 300 to 600 mg per pill. Evidence in the case showed that Rexall marketed softgel capsules called Calcium '900' and Calcium 1200 to attract the attention of consumers who wanted to supplement with 900 or 1200 mg in line with medical recommendations. When the number in a product's name is related to the amount of an ingredient (or ingredients) in a product, that number nearly always reflects the amount per pill. But Calcium '900' contained 300 mg per pill, and Calcium 1200 contained 600 mg per pill. The key question in the suit was whether Rexall had used deception and unconscionable practices in the marketing and labeling of the two products. The jury said yes and determined that each purchaser had lost $4.99 per bottle of Calcium '900' and $5.99 per bottle of Calcium 1200, which means that the total potential award could be about $400,000. Rexall is expected to appeal the verdict. A similar suit is pending in Florida. See Quackwatch for additional information.


Ephedrine product to be destroyed. The Food and Drug Administration today announced that Biogenics Inc., of St. George, Utah, doing business as E'OLA International, has signed a consent decree prohibiting it from manufacturing and distributing AMP II Pro Drops, any product containing ephedrine hydrochloride or any synthetic ephedrine alkaloid, or any drug product that is a new drug not approved by FDA. In October 2001, at the FDA's request, U.S. Marshals seized $2.8 million worth of AMP II Pro Drops that are now slated for destruction. Although ephedrine products can be marketed as drugs, they cannot be legally be marketed as dietary supplements for use in weight control. In addition, drug ingredients are prohibited for use in dietary supplements.) [Dietary supplement firm signs consent decree with FDA to stop selling product containing ephedrine hydrochloride. FDA news release, April 15, 2002] According to San Francisco Attorney Christopher Grell, who represents plaintiffs in personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits against E'OLA, the company had received more than 3,500 complaints about side effects but did not report any problem to the FDA.


FTC targets phony "at-home" medical billing programs. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission has filed complaints against the marketers of five at-home billing scams and six other "in-bound telemarketing" schemes in which consumers call companies based on classified ads, Internet banners, or other promotions. In each case, the FTC is either seeking or has received injunctive relief as well as a freeze of the defendants' assets. The agency warned that consumers interested in doing medical billing from home should be particularly wary of pitches that promise easy money with little or no effort. Although the telemarketers may provide lists of local doctors they say are interested, many times these doctors have not consented to have their information distributed, are not looking for outside help, or may need more skilled employees to complete this technical task. Moreover, up to a year of training may be necessary in order to competently provide billing services to healthcare providers. [FTC sweep protects consumers from "Dialing for Deception": Complaints targeting "in-bound" telemarketing fraud filed against 11 companies. FTC news release, April 15, 2002]


Florida court curbs advertising of unrecognized dental specialty. The U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld the right of Florida's dental board to regulate how dentists advertise their credentials. The ruling overturns a March 2001 lower court ruling that Richard Borgner, D.D.S., could advertise credentials from the American Academy of Implant Dentistry and its sponsored board, the American Board of Implantology/Implant Dentistry, without including a disclaimer. Since 1999, Florida has required dentists to use a disclaimer when advertising that they specialize or limit their practice to an area that the state does not recognize as a specialty. Disclaimers are also required when advertising credentials from an organization not recognized as a specialty accrediting organization by the state unless certain criteria are met, including a requirement that the credential is based on a one-year, formal graduate or postgraduate program affiliated with or sponsored by a university-based dental school. Borgner sued the board in 1999, alleging that the requirements violated his right to free speech. [Fox K. Florida advertising law upheld. ADA News, March 18, 2001] The specialties currently recognized (by the American Dental Association) are dental public health; endodontics; oral and maxillofacial pathology; oral and maxillofacial surgery; orthodontics and dentofacial orthopedics; pediatric dentistry; periodontics; and prosthodontics.


FDA warning on EMS devices. The FDA has warned that unapproved electric muscle stimulators (EMS devices) may cause shocks, burns, bruising, skin irritation, pain, and even electrocution. There also have been reports of interference with implanted devices such as pacemakers and defibrillators. Applying electrical current to muscles may cause muscles to contract. The FDA has cleared many EMS devices for prescription use for patients who require muscle re-education, relaxation of muscle spasms, increased range of motion, prevention of muscle atrophy, and for treating other medical conditions resulting from a stroke, a serious injury, or major surgery. These devices may help a patient recover from impaired muscle function due to a medical condition, but they do not increase muscle size enough to affect appearance. [Consumer information on electronic muscle stimulators. FDA Center for Devices and Radiological Health, April 10, 2002]


New book about "Goat Gland Doctor." The University of Kentucky Press has published a 300-page biography of John R. Brinkley, MD (1885-1942), who made millions implanting goat testicles into men who were seeking "rejuvenation." He also pioneered the use of radio advertising and nearly was elected governor of Kansas as a write-in candidate. Medical historian James Harvey Young considers Brinkley to be "one of the half dozen most irregular and deceptive medical figures in the United States during the 20th century." The Bizarre Careers of John R. Brinkley, by R. Alton Lee, is available at a 30% discount from Amazon Books.


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This page was posted on April 23, 2002.