EXPOSING SHAMS, SCAMS, AND PREDATORS
This is the first in a series of blog posts with the theme: Predatory Economics. In this series we will be calling out businesses preying on the public – especially the elderly. As a plutocracy has grown more powerful in the United States, predatory marketing and manipulation have become increasingly open and shameless.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Food & Drug Administration (FDA) increasingly bend to the will of industry. Because of saturation advertising on television, many people are suckered into believing that medical shams and phony products are legitimate. We intend to expose them. But we also believe that many aspects of Medicare, and Medicaid have been rigged to the advantage of providers and disadvantage of beneficiaries. So, those need to be exposed also.
In the first posts, fraudulent sales pitches to the elderly and their families will be highlighted – “called out” if you will for these two scams: (1) “Prevagen,” a snake oil which is sold as product for improving memory, and (2) “A Place for Mom,” a cubicle sales program (boiler room operation) for directing people to nursing homes by making victims think the company really cares about the quality of care they will receive.
WE ARE NOT ANTI-CAPITALISTS. We believe in a real, well-functioning capitalistic system in which both buyers and sellers have accurate and complete information. However, we also believe that government must regulate business in the interest of the public good and provide the resources to people for full participation in a democratic society.
PREVAGEN, A PRODUCT FOR SAVING YOUR MEMORY. YOU MAY HAVE SEEN THE ADS.
A supplement with the brand name “Prevagen” is sold nationwide and is marketed through a massive television advertising campaign. The claim is that this supplement will improve memory. No evidence has ever been presented that it will do that – none, nada, zip, zero. However, plenty of data exists that it will do nothing for brain health.
You might ask, “Why does the Federal Trade Commission or the Food & Drug Administration allow the purveyors making huge amounts from selling this phony, baloney product continue to blanket TV programming with false claims?” Although these agencies are unduly differential to industry (in my view), in the case of the Prevagen, they have attempted to stop false ads. Both agencies have been attempting through litigation to end the fraud perpetrated by the manufacturers of the product but have been hung up through appeals.
Ads Preying on The Elderly
You might have seen the ads. An elderly lady is pondering over products at the pharmacy that could help her memory. A kind pharmacist walks up and tells her that Prevagen is the best. Or you see 60+ people telling the viewing audience how much it has done for their minds. One man even proclaims that all his friends say, “man you have a memory like an elephant.” The content of the ads is clearly directed toward the elderly and preys on fears of memory loss – even dementia – during the later years of life.
Quackery Is Nothing New
Medical quackery including worthless medicinals and the sales of snake oil have been part of U.S. history for centuries. Prevagen is the latest iteration of a pill that will cost you a pretty penny but do absolutely nothing for you – unless you consider a placebo effect as doing something for you (much like Lydia E. Pinkham’s Little Pink Pills of yore). The makers of this memory pill will charge you $70 on Amazon per bottle of 30 pills for which they have provided no scientific evidence that their curative will effective (check it out yourself on Amazon).
What is in this magic pill? The manufacturers are giving you ground up jelly fish. Robert H. Shmerling, MD Senior Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publishing, had the following to say about Prevagen:
“The bottle promises it “improves memory” and “supports healthy brain function, sharper mind, clearer thinking.” Never mind that the main ingredient in jellyfish (apoaequorin) has no known role in human memory, or that many experts believe supplements like this would most likely be digested in the stomach and never wind up anywhere near the brain.”
I asked the head pharmacist at the CVS pharmacy a few blocks from my home if her store sold Prevagen. She said yes. I asked her why they would sell a product that is obviously fraudulent. She said that she didn’t have any choice in the matter, but stated that it was kept behind the counter because people were stealing it. “Why,” I asked. This pharmacist didn’t seem to know and didn’t seem to care about why people were stealing it. When you think about it, many people who are desperate about perceived loss of memory (or perhaps real loss of memory), but can’t afford the $70 bottle of 30 pills.
What Should We As Citizens Do?
Elderly Americans remain deceived by the ubiquitous ads and waste of money on a memory pill that simply doesn’t work. Leading retail outlets such as Amazon, CVS, Walgreen’s, and others peddling these over-the-counter supplements have no legal obligation to reveal the scientific truth about them. The same is the case for television networks who are obviously earning a significant amount of advertising revenue from supplement frauds. Moral obligation and corporate responsibility are another matter.
Please tell your nice friendly pharmacist that it is wrong to foist snake oil on the elderly. Also, call your state attorney general and tell them to file an injunction against the company making Prevagen and the retail outlets selling it.
 See the discussion in the court referenced in endnote 2 regarding the Madison Study in which there was no significant difference in a double blind, placebo-experimental group design. It took 30 post hoc analyses to find a subgroup with a significant difference on which the company (Quincy Biosciences) stakes it claim that it has been clinically tested. The search for a significant p-value by repeatedly looking for subgroups in which a difference can be found is bogus. Eventually such a difference will occur by random chance.
 https://www.ftc.gov/system/files/documents/cases/quincy_bioscience_complaint-filed_version.pdf; https://www.ftc.gov/enforcement/cases-proceedings/152-3206/quincy-bioscience-holding-company; https://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=2f42c12e-180b-40f9-8597-e9371fc43324