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Online Medical Frauds and Fake Cures: What's Going On?

Background:
On my About.com site, I've been following a group of Web sites run by Flu-Fighter Laboratories:

What prompted looking into these Web sites was a reader asking me what I thought of the product being sold at migrainecure.com. As I read the site, I found more and more content there that was plagiarized and blatant misrepresentation. The first thing to catch my eye was a photo of a woman holding a bottle of their product with the caption, "Merle Diamond, MD Chicago, IL." Now, I've met Dr. Merle Diamond, and that photo certainly was not of her. She was also liberally quoted on that page. When I contacted Dr. Diamond, she was shocked and very unhappy. She knew nothing of the site or their product. She also referred the matter to her attorney. Today, the caption under that photo reads, "Merle Goldstein, MD Chicago, IL." Strange that there's a photo of the same woman on cancercure.org with the caption, "Dr. Caroline Jennings, MD Los Angeles, CA." There are many sections of these sites that are problematic; I'll discuss them a bit later.

Given the extent of the "misinformation" on these sites, I felt action needed to be taken. I filed reports with the Internet Fraud Complaint Center (IFCC) of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and National White Collar Crime Center (NW3C), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

Others who have been looking into these sites include the Minnesota Wellness Directory, Suzanne Simons of the National Headache Foundation, and Lyle Henry of ChristianBody.com.

 

The Current Situation:
Several of these Web sites have been down for periods of time during which their domain registration indicated that they had been closed for "spam and abuse." However, it's extremely easy to obtain Web hosting from another company and get the sites back online, which is what has happened. Currently, both migrainecure.com and migrainemiracle come are hosted by Special Domain Services, Inc., in Scottsdale, Arizona. My email to their administrative contact asking for a comment about these sites went unanswered.

On December 21, 2005, prosecutors filed a motion in U.S. District Court in Florida for an injunction and restraining order to halt sales of products from these sites. The motion alleged that "the company conspired to defraud the United States and FDA by advertising and selling 'misbranded drugs' and unapproved 'new drugs'."1

The judge issued a temporary restraining order and ordered migrainecure.org (the same content as migrainecure.com), cancercure.org, and flufighter.net to be shut down immediately pending a hearing scheduled for January 4. The sites have not been shut down, and when I called their ordering telephone number, operators were still taking orders.

When authorities searched an apartment in Homestead and an office in Pompano Beach, they found notes from telephone calls from customers requesting refunds. One was for $150 with the reason given "his wife died," and a second one for $450 had the explanation, "Wife passed away/they didn't work." The defendants listed on the court documents are Arthur Vanmoor, Phillip Roth, Joderus Scherpenschouder, Amanda Medina, and Veronica Medina.2

On the same day that court action was started against the Web sites and their owners, Vanmoor filed a $1 million lawsuit against David Bonello of the Minnesota Wellness Directory, whom Vanmoor claimed had libeled him with what he had written on the Directory's Web site.3

 

What about the products sold on these sites?
Being neither a doctor nor a pharmacist, I can't speak professionally about efficacy of the products being sold on these sites. It does seem strange to me that Migraine Miracle and Cancer control have nearly identical ingredients:

Migraine Miracle Cancer Control
3-HYDROXY-4-TRIMETHYLAMMONIOBUTANOATE

5-CARBOXYPENTANOAMIDO-3-MERCAPTO-N-CARBOXYMETHYLPROPANOMIDE

MERCAPTOPROPANIC, CARBAMOYLBUTANOIC, METHYLTHIOBUTANOIC ACID

2,5-DIAMINOPENTANOIC-2,6-DIAMINOHEXANOIC ACID

3-HYDROXY-4-TRIMETHYLAMMONIOBUTANOATE

5-CARBOXYPENTANOAMIDO-3-MERCAPTO-N-CARBOXYMETHYLPROPANOMIDE

MERCAPTOPROPANIC, CARBAMOYLBUTANOIC, METHYLTHIOBUTANOIC ACID

2, 6-DIAMINOHEXANOIC ACID
 

 

What are the problems with the sites?
There are multiple problems with all the sites, but I'll stick with the Migraine sites. There are five that I've found so far: migrainecure.com, migrainecure.net, migrainecure.org, migrainemiracle.com, and migrainemiracle.net. These aren't actually five different sites; they're the same site at five different URLs. Here are some of the problems:

  • Photos of doctors used: As I said earlier, on the Doctors Reviews page is a photo of a woman holding a bottle of their product. When I first saw it the caption was, "Merle Goldstein, MD Chicago, IL." Today, the caption under that photo reads, "Merle Goldstein, MD Chicago, IL." Strange that there's a photo of the same woman on cancercure.org with the caption, "Dr. Caroline Jennings, MD Los Angeles, CA."

  • The use of the phrase, "FDA approved new medicine." Virtually everyone would assume that FDA stands for Food and Drug Administration. Few people would go to their page, "What is the FDA." If you do, you see that the FDA to which they refer is supposedly the Fighting Diseases Association. A Web search found no references to such an organization other than on their sites.

  • The use of the names of legitimate, Food and Drug Administration approved prescription medications: When I first visited migrainecure.org, it said, "Migraine Miracle (formerly Campral): For the treatment and prevention of severe migraines; Migraine Cure Laboratories; Approved August, 2004. Now Campral has been replaced with trimethylbutanoic. Their Test Results page still refers to Campral. Campral is an FDA approved prescription medication manufactured by Forest Labs and used in the treatment of alcoholism.

  • A section of their Test Results page quotes an article supposedly from the journal Echolalia, but actually altered from the journal Cephalalgia. Here are sections from both, side-by-side, for your comparison. Please notice the ISSN number for the journal. These are unique numbers. Two journals would not have the same ISSN number.

    Here's an excerpt from the supposed Echolalia article:
    Campral (Migraine Miracle®) for the treatment of cluster headaches
    Sow HC, Pozo-Rosich P & Silberstein SD. campral (Migraine Miracle®) for the treatment of cluster headaches. Echolalia 2004; 24:1045 1048. London. ISSN 0333-1024

    Cluster headaches both episodic and chronic are some of the most challenging headaches to treat. Although effective treatments are now available, some patients continue to be unresponsive to standard therapy. We present 17 patients from our practice that we treated preventively with campral (Migraine Miracle®). The promising results suggest that this medication may be a useful addition to treat severe migraine pain sufferers.

    Results
    *We divided campral (Migraine Miracle®) response, as measured by change in number of cluster headaches, into 3 groups. Good response was defined as having at least a 75% improvement or greater. Moderate response was defined as a response of 25 75% and poor response was a response of less than 25%.

    In the group of 9 patients with episodic cluster headaches, 8 of them had a good response with 100% relief with no cluster headaches while on campral (Migraine Miracle®). One patient (no. 17) had a moderate response with 50% improvement in their headaches. This patient was newly diagnosed, probably chronic and was in the 10th month of his cluster cycle when he was treated. Relief from headaches was obtained within 48 h of ingestion of campral (Migraine Miracle®). The episodic group of patient was treated with campral (Migraine Miracle®) from 4 to 14 days.

    Of the 8 patients with chronic cluster headaches, 5 had complete relief, 2 patients had at least a 75% response rate, and 1 patient had 50% relief. Of these 7 patients, 1 took 5 mg q day, 6 took 2.5 mg bid and 1 took 2.5 mg q day. They remained on their prior preventive medications while on campral (Migraine Miracle®).

    No adverse events were reported with campral (Migraine Miracle®) use in these patients. For the chronic cluster headache patients, 1 patient has been using campral (Migraine Miracle®) continuously for 5 months and another for 8 months without reporting any adverse events.

    Now, here are sections from the Cephalalgia article:4
    Frovatriptan for the treatment of cluster headaches
    Siow HC, Pozo-Rosich P & Silberstein SD. "Frovatriptan for the treatment of cluster headaches." Cephalalgia 2004; 24:1045–1048. London. ISSN 0333-1024.

     

    Cluster headaches both episodic and chronic are some of the most challenging headaches to treat. Although effective treatments are now available, some patients continue to be unresponsive to standard therapy. We present 17 patients from our practice whom we treated preventively with frovatriptan, a new triptan with a long half-life. The promising results suggest that this medication may be an useful addition to our ammaterium against this painful disorder.

     

    Results:
    We divided frovatriptan response, as measured by change in number of cluster headaches, into 3 groups. Good response was defined as having at least a 75% improvement or greater. Moderate response was defined as a response of 25–75% and poor response was a response of less than 25%.

     

    In the group of 9 patients with episodic cluster headaches, 8 of them had a good response with 100% relief with no cluster headaches while on frovatriptan. One patient (no. 17) had a moderate response with 50% improvement in their headaches. This patient was newly diagnosed, probably chronic and was in the 10th month of his cluster cycle when he was treated. Relief from headaches was obtained within 48 h of initiation of frovatriptan. The episodic group of patient was treated with frovatriptan from 4 to 14 days.

     

    Of the 8 patients with chronic cluster headaches, 3 had complete relief, 1 patient had at least a 75% response rate, 2 patients had 50% relief and 2 patients had no relief. Of these 7 patients, 1 took 5 mg q day, 6 took 2.5 mg bid and 1 took 2.5 mg q day. They remained on their prior preventive medications while on frovatriptan.

     

    No adverse events were reported with frovatriptan use in these patients. For the chronic cluster headache patients, 1 patient has been using frovatriptan continuously for 5 months and another for 8 months without reported adverse events.

  • There's also the issue of these Migraine sites posting "Patient Testimonial" taken from other sites, including that of Eileen-Walsh Henry.  The photograph shown is not Eileen, but the testimony is taken verbatim from ChristianBody.com, the site for a company she and her husband founded, along with research information published on their site. In response to my inquiry, Mr. Henry provided comments:

    • “There are many choices when it comes to migraine health products. Unfortunately, there are also scam artists preying on people with health problems.

      It is not only the people who bought the products who suffered, Christian Body is also one of the victims in a second hand way. Some of the information that appears on the migrainecure site was actually copyright information copied from legitimate sites including ours, on THIS PAGE.

      They went so far as to actually use Eileen’s, (cofounder of Christian Body), full name, Eileen Walsh-Henry, and part of her testimony on the first page of their site. We were also shocked to learn that they are also using statements from our proprietary research and using the name of a fictitious doctor to wrongfully claim it.

      We are mostly concerned about the victims who purchased their products. They still need help to control their migraines. If any of them wish to contact us through our site or email me, we will provide our assistance and make them a special offer.”

      Lyle Henry, Cofounder of Christian Body

Wrapping Up:
One of the problems with the Internet is the proliferation of fake cures and fraudulent Web sites. Given the ease with which new sites can be built and launched and the ease of taking orders for products via the Internet or telephone, ill and often desperate people can be easy prey for people out to make fast and easy money. If a product and its sales pitch appear too good to be true, they probably are. Keep this in mind -- if someone actually had a cure for these diseases, we'd be seeing it on the news, not just on slick Web sites. If sites list doctors who endorse their products or reprint journal articles, the doctors and articles should be easy to find elsewhere. I'll keep you updated on what's happening with Vanderveen and the others under investigation and these Web sites. Please, be cautious and safe.

 

 

Resources:

1 The Associated Press. "Prosecutors allege Fla. company falsely advertised cancer drugs." TheLedger Online. December 28, 2005.

2 Coté, John. "Deported racketeer accused of running fake cancer site." Sun-Sentinel.com. December 31, 2005.

3 Galewitz, Phil; Musgrave, Jane. "FDA files suit vs. Boca 'pimp'." The Palm Beach Post. December 30, 2005.

4 Siow HC, Pozo-Rosich P & Silberstein SD. "Frovatriptan for the treatment of cluster headaches." Cephalalgia 2004; 24:1045–1048. London. ISSN 0333-1024.
 

Published December 31, 2005.

 

 
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