Consumer Health Digest #04-07

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
February 17, 2004


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.


Faith healer receives 9-year prison sentence; radio host sued. Reina Chavarria, of Van Nuys, California, has been sentenced to nine years in prison for practicing medicine without a license and injecting drugs into a man who later died. In November 2002, she was arrested administering vitamins and an anti-inflammatory drug to a 54-year-old handyman who consulted her for a persistent rash. The injections caused the man to have convulsions and die shortly afterward. The man had consulted her for a persistent skin disorder. Police investigators later found candles, voodoo dolls, and religious figurines in the room where she treated her clients. In November 2003, Chavarria pleaded guilty to four counts of unlawful medical practice and three counts of tax evasion. Reina's husband Jose pleaded no contest to signing a false tax return and was sentenced to two years' probation. Chavarria's assistant, Margarita Montes, who pleaded no contest to one count of unlawful medical practice, was sentenced to nine months in Los Angeles County Jail and three years' probation. The victim's family has filed suit against Chavarria, Montes, the Hispanic Broadcasting Corp (parent company of Los Angeles radio station KSCA-FM), and Alexandro Coello (a/k/a "El Cucuy") who hosted a radio program through which Chavarria attracted clients for her services. [Fausset R. Van Nuys faith healer is sentenced to 9 years in prison. Los Angeles Times Feb 10, 2004] In November 2003, the California Franchise Tax Board reported that the Chavarrias failed to report income of more than $319,000 for the years 1999 through 2001 and owed the state more than $45,000 in delinquent income taxes and penalties.


Skin product manufacturer ordered to stop "face-lift" and "body lift" claims. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has ordered University Medical Products USA of Irvine, California, to stop making illegal claims for eleven of its skin products, either directly or by using product names that imply them. The products are variously said to reduce deep wrinkles, regenerate cells, boost collagen production, reduce thigh circumference, burn fat, control appetite, increase metabolism, break down fat cells, promote restful sleep, and/or help reduce water retention in the stomach, hips and legs. [Cruze AE. Warning letter to Raymond J. Francis, Jan 22, 2004] The Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act makes a distinction between cosmetics, which are intended to cleanse, beautify or promote attractiveness, and drugs, which are defined as agents that treat disease or affect the structure or any function of the human body. The law does not require premarket approval for cosmetics, but does mandate premarket approval of the safety and effectiveness of drugs. When a product that would ordinarily be regulated as a cosmetic has labeling that makes drug-type claims (that is, they suggest that the product is intended to treat or affect the structure and formation of the human body), the product legally becomes a drug that must meet premarketing testing and review requirements for distribution and sale.


FDA acts against counterfeit contraceptive patch sellers. The FDA has taken action against four foreign Internet sites associated with a site previously found to be selling counterfeit Ortho Evra contraceptive patches that contain no active ingredients. The counterfeits are sent in zip-lock bags without packaging or identifying materials. The sites were www.rxpharmacy.ws, www.usarxstore.com, www.europeanrxpharmacy.com, and www.generic.com. These sites also sold other purported drugs that the agency said were from unknown sources and of unknown safety and efficacy. The U.S.-based Internet service provider shut down the sites at the FDA's request. [FDA and Johnson & Johnson warn public about counterfeit contraceptive patches sold through foreign internet site, FDA news release, Feb 4, 2004] [FDA takes action against foreign websites selling counterfeit contraceptive patches. FDA news release, Feb 12, 2004] The FDA advises consumers who use the Internet to purchase drugs to use only sites bearing the National Boards of Pharmacy's Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites (VIPPS) seal.


Ohio osteopath charged with laetrile-related crime. Jack Edwin Slingluff, D.O., of Canton, Ohio, is facing a criminal charge of introducing an unapproved new drug (Laetrile), into interstate commerce. According to a one-count criminal information, Slingluff "caused thirty (30) vials of the unapproved new drug Amigdalina B-17 (AKA Laetrile) to be shipped from West Palm Beach, Florida, to Salem, Ohio; in violation of Title 21, Sections 331(d), 355(a) and 333(a)(1), United States Code." In 1987, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the FDA's banning of laetrile sales in interstate commerce. [Wilson B. The rise and fall of laetrile. Quackwatch, Feb 17, 2004]


Student loans granted to nonexistent schools. The U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) has demonstrated that the Federal Family Education Loan Program (FFELP) is vulnerable to fraud because it has not been closely investigating foreign schools before approving loans to their students. Noting that the loan-approval process lacked on-site visits, GAO investigators set up a fictitious British school, created bogus documents, and gained approval for $55,000 in student loans before revealing that the "school" did not exist. The documents included a course catalog, audited financial statements, and a letter purporting to be from United Kingdom government authorities acknowledging the school as a nonprofit, degree-granting institution. Based on its investigation, the GAO advised the U.S. Department of Education to implement on-site visits to ensure that foreign schools applying to participate in the program actually exist. About 70% of U.S. residents receiving FFELP funds to attend foreign schools are in medical school and account for about 75% of the total loan volume. [Student Loans and Foreign Schools: Assessing Risks Could Help Education Reduce Program Vulnerability. 03-647Report #GAO-03-647, July 2003] [TEXT] [PDF]


Agency appeals for science books. Reader To Reader, Inc. which collects and distributes free books to economically disadvantaged libraries throughout the United States, needs donations of science books for school libraries that lack even the most basic books in all areas of science. Reader To Reader, Inc. is a public charity dedicated to bringing books, free of charge, to needy libraries around the United States. Since its founding in 2002, it has distributed more than 35,000 books to 75 schools. The group's Web site has instructions for donating books or money.


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This page was posted on February 17, 2004.