Consumer Health Digest #08-11

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
March 11, 2008


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.


Doctors campaigning for single-payer national health plan. Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP) has initiated an Internet-based "open letter" campaign urging Presidential candidates to implement a nonprofit, single-payer national health insurance system. This is a system in which a single public or quasi-public agency organizes health financing, but delivery of care remains largely private. PNHP states:

Single payer reform has been endorsed by the American College of Physicians and appears to be favored by the majority of Americans. PNHP is primarily seeking physician signers for its open letter but is also urging all health care professionals and other concerned citizens to add their name. About 1,700 physicians have signed so far.


FDA"hides" old warning letters. The FDA Web site has made several changes that greatly decrease the visibility of warning letters about products and safety violations. Letters issued before January 2007 have been moved into a new directory so that all incoming links to them from other sites have been broken. This directory is also coded so that search engines cannot index its contents. Searching for warning letters on the FDA site is difficult because (a) the newer and older letters have to be searched separately, (b) the search page for pre-2007 pages in not easy to find. (c) letters are moved to the archive folder at irregular intervals, and (d) many of the older letters are in PDF format, which means that they will be found only if the searcher uses specific keywords. The agency as become extremely slow in responding to Freedom of Information Act requests. In August 2005, Dr. Barrett asked for a document related to a warning letter. If one exists, finding it would take only a few minutes. Barrett's Congressman has asked twice for the document, and FDA staff members have phoned Barrett four times during the past year to find out whether he still wants it. But it still has not come. Bloomberg News has reported that in May 2007, the agency had 20,365 unfilled requests, including 1,924 that were more than three years old and that the the number of workers filling requests has been cut even though the backlog had been steadily rising. [Blum J. Drug, food risks stay secret as inquiries to U.S. FDA pile up. Bloomberg News, June 19, 2007]


British "psychic" told to tone down claims. The British Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has ordered a woman who does business under the names "Zara" and "Freya" to stop claiming that she is superior to other "psychics" and can cast spells that will "solve all problems" and improve the health, wealth, love life, happiness, or other circumstances of her clients. In response to an ASA complaint, the woman stated that (a) she harnessed positive energy and provided a focus through which her clients could instigate positive changes in their lives; (b) there is a solution for every problem, if people look for it; and (c) her role was to empower people to find solutions for themselves. The ASA concluded that these claims were unsubstantiated. [ASA Adjudication: Zara, 12 March 2008]


Doubt cast on "brain repair" practitioner. CBC has published an investigative report about Claudia Gorden-Pomares, who describes herself as a neuroscientist and runs the Brain Repair Institute out of her home in Alberta, Canada. Gorden-Pomaris claims she can sure autism and epilepsy and correct various other brain-related problems. Her alleged treatment, which she calls Monitored Multi-cortical Activities for Additional Pathways and Synapses, relies on scents and other sensual stimulation to get the brain to repair itself. Her protocol, which costs $5,000 for the first six months and $3,000 for subsequent six-month periods, is claimed to produce "98% success" in from three months to three years. CBC's investigation concluded that: (a) there is no scientific evidence that the program works, (b) scientists whom she claims support her do not back her claims, and (c) universities from which she claims to have graduated said that they did not issue degrees to her. [Selling hope: Can this Alberta woman fix the damaged brain? CBC News, March 3, 2008]


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