FTC to advertiser: Where’s your proof for COVID-19, cancer, and Parkinson’s Disease “treatment” claims?

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Golden Sunrise Nutraceutical and related company Golden Sunrise Pharmaceutical sell “plans of care” – regimens of health-related products – advertised to treat COVID-19 and other serious medical conditions. The FTC has gone to court in an effort to see the sun set on what it alleges are Golden Sunrise’s deceptive claims. The just-filed case also sends an important message to the hundreds of companies like Golden Sunrise that have received FTC warning letters about how they’ve marketed COVID-related products and services.

The California-based defendants pitched their Emergency D-Virus Plan of Care as a treatment for COVID-19. According to the company, “Prompt administration of this treatment will significantly diminish the occurrence of serious cases and need for hospitalization.” What’s more, “Physicians have observed that using Emergency D-Virus Plan of Care provokes a significant response, i.e., a reduction in symptoms in patients with the COVID-19 virus.”

Billboard for purported COVID-19 treatmentThose representations – and other like it – appeared on the Golden Sunrise website. In addition, the defendants took to Facebook to disseminate COVID-19 cure claims. According to one post, “There is one company with a proven cure. WHO and CDC don’t want to use it because it is not in vaccine form but an oral formula. Golden Sunrise Pharmaceutical /Nutraceutical [] Tested and Proven in Wuhan.” Two weeks later, the defendants posted this about products included in their Emergency D-Virus Plan of Care: “ImunStem, Aktiffvate, and AnterFeeron are now on the market, especially in the current global situation of new coronavirus invasion, they will immediately help relieve patients with acute disease of coronavirus. . . . The efficacy of this product has been witnessed by countless users!” The defendants also used billboards to convey their claims.

What’s in the products that make up their Emergency D-Virus Plan of Care? A variety of herbal ingredients and spices, including extracts of olive leaf, rosemary, turmeric, cayenne, and eucalyptus, to name just a few. Based on the defendants’ online price list, the Plan of Care could cost consumers thousands of dollars.

On April 29, 2020, FTC staff sent a warning letter to Golden Sunrise, directing them to remove all unsubstantiated claims that their products could prevent, treat, or cure COVID-19. According to the complaint, the defendants responded by modifying their marketing materials to replace “COVID-19 virus” with terms like “the virus,” “viral,” or “the viral pandemic.”

COVID-19 isn’t the only malady the defendants claim to cure. They also sell products advertised to treat other serious medical conditions. For example, according to a testimonial video, the defendants told a cancer patient that one of their products will “strip the edges off the tumors and expose them so that the body’s own immune system can attack.” Another video featuring a customer included this statement: “We’ve cured cancer. I truly believe at this point. I can’t feel it anymore; I haven’t felt it in about six or seven days. I truly believe that the cancer has been cured.” The defendants also featured a cancer patient claiming the products reduced the side effects of chemotherapy – for example, “[T]he sores in my mouth cleared up instantly.”

The defendants also pitched their products as a “Parkinson’s Breakthrough.” In one testimonial video, a customer claimed, “When I started taking Aktiffvate, the stumbling actually stopped the same day I was taking it. . . . I did realize that every time I took it over the next few days, then I would stop stumbling, and I wouldn’t get as much tremoring in my wrist and everything else.” On their website, the defendants further claimed, “Golden Sunrise Nutraceutical’s METABOLIC Plan of Care, with Golden Sunrise Nutraceutical’s products produced a significant response in 99% of their patients,” and mentions Parkinson’s Disease among a list of conditions that see a “reduction of symptoms.”

The complaint alleges that Golden Sunrise Nutraceutical, Golden Sunrise Pharmaceutical, Huu Tieu, and Stephen Meis made false or unsubstantiated claims about COVID-19, cancer, and Parkinson’s Disease. The FTC also challenges as false the defendants’ representations that their products have been reviewed and accepted by the FDA.

The case is pending in federal court, but here are two preliminary takeaway tips.

Serious claims about treatments for serious conditions will get serious scrutiny from the FTC. Seriously. Before making prevention or cure representations for COVID-19, cancer, Parkinson’s Disease, etc., companies need to have sound science in hand that proves their products live up to their advertising claims. That long-standing legal standard applies to representations conveyed on websites, in consumer testimonials, via social media, and on billboards.

Heed FTC warning letters. So far, more than 250 companies have received warning letters from the FTC raising concerns about questionable COVID-19 claims. The good news is that most businesses have taken a second look at what they’ve said and removed unsubstantiated representations. According to the FTC, the defendants in this case did a little wordsmithing, but continued to make deceptive claims. If your company has received a warning letter, be assured that the FTC will be back to see how you are responding.

The FTC has resources for businesses and consumers about COVID-19.
   


 
 

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