More and stronger laws are needed to combat quackery - a practice threatening the quality of life and economic well-being of Utah citizens, politicians and practitioners concurred on Thursday.
"Here in Utah and in the nation as a whole, there is a similarity between having sex and combatting health fraud. It's talked about a lot but nothing much happens," David B. Roll, professor of medicinal chemistry, University of Utah Department of Pharmacy, told participants at the Utah Health Fraud Conference at the University Park Hotel.According to a 1987 Harris poll, one in four Americans has been a victim of health fraud, and an estimated $30 billion a year is spent on fraudulent products - drugs, devices, cosmetics, foods.
Throughout the day, local and national speakers warned of the widespread sale of herbs, deceptive weight-loss programs, homeopathic `remedies' and unproven medical treatments.
Keynote speaker at the conference was Dr. James A. Lowell, vice president of the National Council Against Health Fraud, who took swipes at such exposed quacks as Victor H. Koliman.
Koliman's Blue Green Manna - pond scum that sold for $20 a bottle - was advertised as a sure cure for Alzheimer's disease and AIDS. It also reportedly made babies sleep better at night and improved the grades of children who took the magical medication.
The federal Food and Drug Administration determined Koliman's substance contained flies, ostracods, maggots and cicada, among other things. FDA investigators said while Blue Green Manna was likely high in protein, it couldn't live up to its claims.
Lowell said it still took the FDA a year to get it off the market and drive sales underground. That's when Victor's brother Darrell caught onto the scam and now sells it openly under the name "Super Blue Green."
Lowell also cautioned against products by Fred Bell, whose amazing nuclear receptor (with a decorative amethyst) reportedly cures sexual problems of wearers, in addition to making them smarter.
"Dr. Bell also discovered that your nose hairs switch your brain on and off. So if you pick your nose on the freeway you can turn your brain off and accidents occur."
Lowell urged Utahns to also watch out for promoters like Earl Mindell, who has two bogus degrees - one from the University of Beverly Hills diploma mill.
Mindell's "Vitamin Bible," Lowell said, contains 400 errors - 100 of which are serious.
Although Lowell, a professor in the Department of Health and Life Sciences, Pima Community College, Tucson, Ariz., presented quackery in a humorous way, he stressed it's really no laughing matter. It can, in fact, cause physical and medical harm to its victims in Utah and elsewhere.
"The state of Utah is as susceptible to these activities as anyplace," Utah attorney general Paul Van Dam said at the gathering. "From the point of view of the Attorney General's office, we have been ill-prepared to do anything effectively about these kinds of claims, partly because it's difficult to refute the claims."
Van Dam said it's also difficult to tell people who believe in a product that the only thing they are accomplishing in purchasing it is reducing the weight of their wallet.
"There's no doubt in a country like ours where personal freedoms are great, government intervention, while somewhat well-organized, is still cautious in limiting freedoms," he said.
Compounding the problem in Utah, Van Dam added, is "we have those in the Legislature who believe and practice some of these kinds of measures themselves" and those who hide behind a facade of "good intent."
Van Dam said his newly formed group of lawyers and support personnel - Fair Business Enforcement Units - will work to enforce current laws regulating health fraud.
"But there's no doubt we need some additional laws and the strengthening of those we have," he said. "But the important thing in our office is a recognition that much more needs to be done in this area."
Preying on the public?
Segments of society most susceptible to health-care fraud:
-Those with chronic diseases, particularly the elderly. Most victimized are the 40 million Americans who suffer from arthritis and spend $8 billion a year in search of relief.
-The obese who have been bombarded with hundreds of different diets, mainly with exotic names making impossible claims.
-AIDS victims who are being sold quack remedies such as pond scum at $20 a bottle, injections of hydrogen peroxide and herbal capsules containing poisonous metals. Treatments might include thumping the thymus gland, bathing the body in bleach and exposing the genitals to the sun's rays at 4 p.m.
Source: Utah Council Against Health Fraud