It was a tragedy that some of us feared would happen and it did. And LeeAnn Ramsay wants an investigation. On Friday, the B.C. Supreme Court ruled that 27-year-old Jordan Ramsay, who suffers from schizophrenia and who killed his father and severely injured his mother, is not criminally responsible to stand trial.
As both CBC and CTV reported, Jordan switched from his prescribed medication to a vitamin product that has been aggressively marketed for over a dozen years as a cure for most mental illnesses. The North Shore (Vancouver) Outlook declared, "Vitamin therapy contributed to North Vancouver murder: judge"
The product, called EM Power Plus and marketed by Truehope, is one that I have been following and writing about since I first learned of it in 2000. I, along with my two colleagues, Dr. Terry Polevoy of Kitchener, Ontario and Ron Reinhold, a Calgary private investigator and former Health Canada investigator, produced an e-book called Pig Pills Inc.; The Anatomy of an Academic and Alternative Health Fraud. The formula used is said to cure pigs of ear and tail biting syndrome which the company claims is a pig version of bipolar disorder.
Truehope and its founding partner, Tony Stephan, have come under considerable criticism over the years but manage to keep on convincing people that their vitamin product can cure just about everything. They encourage people to give up their prescription medication with often dire consequences. Health Canada reissued their warning that the product was a possible health hazard because of potential worsening of psychiatric symptoms and "unauthorized health claims, and medical advice being provided by non-medically qualified staff" in 2007.
In 2003, the RCMP raided Truehope's Alberta headquarters but after lengthy legal battles, the company continued to market the pill. Research that was being conducted on the product, mostly at the University of Calgary by psychologist Bonnie Kaplan, has been criticized on both sides of the border. The Office for Human Research Protections (OHRP) in the U.S., along with the University of Utah (where a researcher collaborated with Calgary), concluded that the "risks to the subjects (in the research) outweighed the benefits to the subjects or society."
The complaint to OHRP was made by the Washington-based organization, Citizens For Responsible Care and Research who noted "two instances of attempted suicide by patients using the investigational drug were known to the investigators, yet they failed to disclose this to prospective research subjects in the informed consents." They issued their own warning to people about the research.
The human research at the University of Calgary was halted by Health Canada in January, 2002. The letter to the university stated that there was no scientific basis for the study, that there were concerns with toxicity of the product, that a child had been hospitalized after taking it and that the Schizophrenia Society of Ontario had safety concerns about the product (p.3).
Vancouver psychiatrist, Philip Long who was interviewed by CTV during this trial, said on his website in 2006 that, "True Hope (or EMPower) is a total medical fraud. There is absolutely no scientifically sound (double blind, randomized) clinical trial that has shown this vitamin mixture to be effective. It is bad enough that people with mood disorders suffer so terribly. It is criminal that others perpetrate a medical fraud just to prey on the suffering of the depressed."
LeeAnn Ramsay, the sister of the murder victim, is not the first person to contact us about tragedies. There have been others, but people will not come forth out of fear and embarrassment. One who did and whose story made the Ottawa Citizen resulted in no action from the government. In September, 2001, Caro Overdulve, of Ottawa, decided to stop his anti-psychotic medication for the Truehope program. His health then deteriorated significantly to the point where he was charged criminally by the police for assault, mischief and criminal harassment.
He sold his car to pay for the supplements but when he could no longer afford them, his skeptical parents agreed to pay and "from November to February, they were billed six times, for a total of more than $1,600. In March 2002, they were charged $1,248 for an additional six-month supply of the pills. But the Overdulves found their son's supplements weren't working. Worse, his behaviour was getting increasingly bizarre and even alarming. When they went to visit him in a townhouse they owned in Barrhaven, they found the place filthy.
"Pots with the charred remains of food were piled in the sink. Drinking glasses and mugs containing liquids were floating islands of mould, recalls Mrs. Overdulve. Her son was taking 32 capsules a day, but he was eating them by the handful. Often he missed his mouth, scattering capsules everywhere. The Overdulves found that their son had racked up $600 on his phone bill for calls to a Truehope support line in Orléans, even though the centre had a toll-free line."
And, if you want to know what advice the Truehope counsellors give to their customers, listen to these under cover calls we made a few years ago. All the scenarios we used were developed by a family doctor and then checked for accuracy by a psychiatrist.
Given this history, how do they get away with it and where is Health Canada, which is supposed to be protecting the public? I wish I could answer that but I can't. I do know that the company seems to have friends and that the company likes to threaten lawsuits. Tory MP James Lunney mislead a parliamentary committee by telling them that this product could regenerate brains. When I wrote this up for The Scientist Magazine, Truehope threatened to sue the magazine if they did not remove my article. They refused of course.
I've been threatened with libel a few times and have a transcript of three calls made to me by Tony Stephan that I recorded and transcribed in Pig Pills. There have also been accusations that I am in the pay of big pharma. This arose about 2003 when the Schizophrenia Society of Ontario Ottawa Chapter invited me to give a public presentation on the pig pills. As it was well-advertised, Tony Stephan showed up from Alberta and brought along at least a dozen of his supporters.
The chair mentioned that the chapter got an educational grant from a pharmaceutical company to fund the lectures. What I received was a return flight via West Jet from Hamilton to Ottawa, dinner at a Swiss Chalet with the organizers, and a night in a motel. That was the basis for that accusation. Nothing near the $6 billion that Glaxo Smith Kline was recently convicted of bribing people with.
Shortly before the Ramsay case went to trial, Ron Reinhold received this e-mail (we've had these before):
From: Anonymous Remailer (austria) [mailto:email@example.com]
Sent: Tuesday, July 03, 2012 12:16 PM
You should be aware criminal charges have been filed against you, Polevoy
and Ross concerning TrueHope. Charges include fraud and conspiracy. Minister
Jonathan Denis has accepted delivery and instructed the RCMP to investigate. You
should tell Polevoy to get rid of pigpills.com. It may help mitigate. You should also move your site offshore....
After the verdict was handed down, Bradford Stephan, Tony's son and the COO of Truehope, told the Vancouver Province that Jordan was on their vitamins but blamed the murder on the fact that his psychiatrist had "ripped a strip off him" for taking the vitamins and that left him "very upset." In addition, he told the Province that, "This is a young man who is full grown in a house with elderly parents. It was just a bad situation."
Health Canada told the Province that "it licences the company to use several nutritional supplements but does not allow them to claim them as a cure for schizophrenia or bipolar disorder." Well, Health Canada has been well aware of their making those claims since at least 2000 and making those claims is illegal. Where have they been?
LeeAnn Ramsay and her family and all Canadians deserve the investigation that she is demanding. Why the tragedy that befell her family was allowed to happen needs to be explained and the cause rectified. I agree with her and hope she gets it.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article stated Daniel Stephan spoke with the Vancouver Province when it was in fact Bradford Stephan.
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