The Federal Trade Commission, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Health Canada, and the Secretaria de Salud of Mexico today announced the adoption of an agreement on Joint Strategies to Combat Health Fraud (Joint Strategies Agreement). The Joint Strategies Agreement provides a formal framework for cooperation and signals an expansion of joint efforts against the fraudulent marketing and sale of health related products, services and devices.
The Joint Strategies Agreement notes that health fraud is a critical problem which can induce death or serious injury and can cause consumers with serious medical problems to delay or forgo appropriate medical treatment. It may be a particular problem for residents living near the Mexico-United States-Canada borders because fraudulent health products and treatments that originate in one country are often marketed to residents of another country. The Agreement was adopted by members of a Mexico-USA-Canada Health Fraud Task Force which was formed to address these problems.
Under the Joint Strategies Agreement, the adopting agencies will:
- share information describing current trends in health fraud;
- cooperate in the detection of cross-border health fraud;
- inform counterpart foreign agencies as soon as practicable of significant investigations involving activities in their country;
- consider counterpart agency requests to investigate domestic activities and to coordinate related enforcement activities; and
- work to develop and disseminate joint consumer and business education messages about health fraud.
"Health fraud is a particularly pernicious fraud because it not only wastes consumers' money, some products or treatments may even cause serious injury or death," said Jodie Bernstein, Director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, who authorized the agreement on behalf of the Bureau. "Our informal coordination with Mexican and Canadian officials resulted in several joint enforcement and consumer education projects to combat these schemes. This more formal framework will broaden our efforts so that fraudulent operators will not be able to evade law enforcement by operating in one country and targeting consumers of another."
"Our Mexico-USA-Canada Health Fraud Task Force has been very successful in attacking health fraud common to our three countries," said Gary Dykstra, FDA Deputy Associate Commissioner for Regulatory Affairs. "This new Joint Strategies Agreement will take our cooperative efforts to the next level."
"We are very pleased to be able to join forces with our colleagues in Mexico and the United States. Together we will be even better able to protect citizens of all three nations from the sometimes quite devastating health and economic effects of health fraud," said Dann Michols, Director General for Health Canada's Therapeutics Program.
"This Agreement is another step forward in strengthening the cooperation between Mexico, Canada and the United States" said Arturo Jacques of the Secretaria de Salud of Mexico.
Members of the Mexico-USA-Canada Health Fraud Task Force have joined together in a number of enforcement and consumer education projects, including: (1) two Health Claim Internet Surf Days, in which Task Force participants surfed the Internet for potentially false or deceptive advertising claims concerning treatments or cures for heart disease, cancer, AIDS, diabetes, arthritis, and multiple sclerosis, and sent hundreds of E-mail messages to Web site advertisers pointing out that they must have evidence to back up their claims; (2) Campaña Alerta I and II, two sweeps targeting deceptive Spanish-language ads for health care products that included a total of seven FTC enforcement actions, four Spanish-language radio public service announcements, and a Spanish-language television PSA jointly-released in the United States and Mexico; and (3) a Mexican government crackdown on border clinics in that country offering "cures" for cancer, AIDS, and multiple sclerosis.
The FTC, with the assistance of the FDA and other Task Force members, has published a Facts for Consumers titled "Fraudulent Health Claims: Don't Be Fooled." The brochure, which is available in English and Spanish, offers the following tips to avoid health fraud:
- If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is;
- Beware of products or treatments that are advertised as a quick and effective cure-all for a wide range of ailments or for an undiagnosed pain;
- Be cautious of testimonials claiming amazing results;
- Watch out for promoters who use phrases such as "scientific breakthrough," "miraculous cure," "exclusive product," and "secret ingredient"; and
- Before you purchase you should consult your pharmacist, doctor, or other health professional.
Copies of the Joint Strategies Agreement as well as brochures on health fraud are available from the FTC's web site at http://www.ftc.gov and also from the FTC's Consumer Response Center, Room 130, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580; 202-FTC-HELP (202-382-4357); TDD for the hearing impaired 1-866-653-4261. To find out the latest news as it is announced, call the FTC NewsPhone recording at 202-326-2710. This press release and the Joint Strategies Agreement are also available in Spanish and French on the FTC web site
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