Consumer Health Digest #07-49

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
December 18, 2007


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.


Stem cell fraudsters sentenced to prison. Elizabeth Lerner (a/k/a "Elizabeth Cooperman) of Egg Harbor City, New Jersey has been sentenced to 33 months in prison for falsely claiming that she could cure amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), commonly called “Lou Gehrig’s Disease.” She was also ordered to pay $35,390 in restitution to victims and a criminal fine of $7,500. Lerner and her co-conspirator Charlene C. DeMarco, a former doctor of osteopathy, were convicted in December of one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, three counts of mail fraud, six counts of wire fraud, and one count of money laundering. DeMarco was sentenced to 57 months in prison and ordered to pay $32,190 in restitution and a criminal fine of $7,500. Evidence showed that from October 2002 until November 2004, Lerner and DeMarco told ALS patients and their families that they could treat ALS patients with stem cell therapy, even though they knew they could not. The pair also falsely claimed that DeMarco had received FDA approval to treat ALS. Prosecutors said that Lerner and DeMarco also attempted to defraud two patients and their families in Louisiana of more than $140,000 and had obtained more than $40,000 from the scheme. Witnesses described how Lerner and DeMarco illegally laundered money they received and used the proceeds for personal expenses The case was prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of New Jersey and was investigated by the FDA's Office of Criminal Investigations. [Associate of Egg Harbor City doctor sentenced to 33 months for scheme to defraud ALS patients. USDOJ news release, Dec 12, 2007] Although stem cell therapy has a few practical applications and has considerable promise, commercial clinics that offer it to the public should not be regarded as credible. [Barrett S. The shady side of embryonic stem cell therapy. Quackwatch, June 19, 2006]


FDA panel nixes OTC Mevacor. An FDA advisory panel has voted against over-the-counter (nonprescription) sales of Mevacor (lovastatin) on grounds that the manufacturer (Merck) had failed to show that consumers could adequately judge whether they should be taking the drug. This was the third time an FDA panel voted against OTC sales of Mevacor. The panel's decision was influenced in part by a poll of potential customers which found that many who were interested in taking the drug (a) did not know their cholesterol numbers, (b) were not at sufficient risk to warrant taking the drug, or (c) were at high enough risk that medical supervision would be important. The 537-page FDA briefing document provides details of the poll and other important information. For the same reasons, the FDA has taken several regulatory actions against the marketing of lovastatin-containing red yeast rice products as "dietary supplements." The American Medical Association also opposes OTC sale of cholesterol-lowering drugs.


Valuable anti-fraud resource available. OnGuardOnline.gov provides practical tips to help guard against Internet fraud, secure your computer, and protect your personal information. The FTC maintains the site with help from 22 other government, industry, and consumer group partners. The site, launched in 2005, features educational information and a complaint form.


Phony weight-loss promotions slammed. Healthy Weight Network has issued its 19th annual "Slim Chance" awards for the worst weight loss products and promotions of 2007. The "winners" are:

The Healthy Weight Network's Web site has additional tips on recommended and nonrecommended weight control methods.


Another argyria case surfaces. CNN has broadcast the story of 57-year-old Paul Karason, whose skin turned blue-gray after 14 years of drinking water containing colloidal silver. The report states that the man still "swears by it," drinks it, and thinks the problem occurred because he rubbed the water on his face. Colloidal silver is a suspension of submicroscopic metallic silver particles in a colloidal base. Long-term use of silver preparations can cause silver salts to deposit in the skin, eyes, and internal organs, and the skin turns bluish-gray. Many cases of argyria occurred during the pre-antibiotic era when silver was a common ingredient in nosedrops. When the cause became apparent, doctors stopped recommending their use, and reputable manufacturers stopped producing them. But many Web sites sell colloidal silver-making devices with false claims that they can prevent and treat diseases. [Barrett S. Colloidal silver: Risk without benefit. Quackwatch Aug 1, 2005]


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This page was revised on December 20, 2007.