Quacks-people who sell
unproven remedies-have been around for years. You may remember the "snake
oil" salesman who traveled from town to town making amazing claims about
his "fabulous" product. Today's quack is only a little more slick. Sometimes
only money wasted, but it can be a serious problem if quackery prevents
you from seeking professional medical care.
Who Are the Victims?
To the quack, people of all ages are fair game, but older people form
the largest group of victims. In fact, a Government study found that 60
percent of all victims of health care fraud are older people.
Most people who are
taken in by a quack's worthless and often dangerous "treatments" are desperate
for some offer of hope. Because older people as a group have more chronic
illnesses than younger people, they are likely targets for fraud.
What do Quacks
Anti-Aging. The normal processes of aging are a rich territory
for medical quackery. In a youth-oriented society, quacks find it easy
to promote a wide variety of products. They simply say their products
can stop or reverse aging processes or relieve conditions associated with
old age. While there are products that may reduce wrinkles or reverse
baldness for some people, these products cannot slow the body's aging
process. However, not smoking, eating a healthy diet, and getting regular
exercise may help prevent some diseases that occur more often as people
Arthritis "remedies" are especially easy to fall for because symptoms
of arthritis tend to come and go. People with arthritis easily associate
the remedy they are using with relief from symptoms. Arthritis sufferers
have paid for bottled seawater, "extracts" from New Zealand green lipped
mussels, and Chinese herbal medicines (which have no herbs but may contain
drugs that are dangerous).
There is no cure
for most forms of arthritis, but treatments that can help reduce pain
and enable greater movement are available. These include drugs, heat treatments,
a balance of rest and exercise, and in some cases, surgery.
Quacks prey on the older person's fear of cancer by offering "treatments"
that have no proven value-for example, a diet dangerously low in protein
or drugs such as Laetrile. By using unproven methods, patients may lose
valuable time and the chance to receive proven, effective therapy. This
can reduce the chance for controlling or curing the disease.
How To Protect
One way to protect yourself is to question carefully what you see or hear
in ads. Although there are exceptions, the editors of newspapers, magazines,
radio, and TV do not regularly screen their ads for truth or accuracy.
Find out about a
product before you buy it. Check out products sold door to door through
an agency such as the Better Business Bureau.
The following are
common ploys used by dishonest promoters:
- promising a quick
or painless cure,
- promoting a product
made from a "special" or "secret" formula, usually available through
the mail and from only one sponsor,
- presenting testimonials
or case histories from satisfied patients,
- advertising a product
as effective for a wide variety of ailments, or
- claiming to have
the cure for a disease (such as arthritis or cancer) that is not yet
understood by medical science.
Remember if it seems
"too good to be true," it probably is.
If you have questions about a product, talk to your doctor or contact
one of the following agencies.
Food and Drug
5600 Fishers Lane
Rockville, MD 20857
The Food and Drug Administration answers questions about medical devices,
medicines, and food supplements that are mislabeled, misrepresented, or
in some way harmful.
U.S. Postal Service
Office of Criminal Investigation
Washington, DC 20260-2166
U.S. Postal Service monitors quack products purchased by mail.
Council of Better
4200 Wilson Boulevard
Arlington, VA 22209
The Council of Better Business Bureaus offers publications and advice
6th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, NW.
Washington, DC 20580
The Federal Trade Commission looks into charges of false advertising
in publications or on the radio and TV.
The CIS, funded by the National Cancer Institute, can answer questions
about a broad range of cancer-related issues, including foods and products.
Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NIAMS)
9000 Rockville Pike
Bethesda, MD 20892