The American Quack Association

Stephen Barrett, M.D.

The American Quack Association (AQA) was founded in 1985 and grew to about 350 members, most of whom were health professionals [1]. Its dues were $6 a year. Its main purposes appeared to be providing emotional support to its members, poking fun at their critics, and stimulating positive public feelings toward unconventional practitioners. Declaring that "Discrimination, legal investigation, persecution, prosecution, and even imprisonment have variously been the fate of those few physicians and others who have publicly counseled alternative means of health care," AQA's "Articles of Health Freedom" demanded that "no law or regulations shall be made prohibiting the right of people to freely assemble for healing of any type." They also opposed "any penalty whatsoever against anyone employing any form of treatment for cancer or any other disease for him or herself or others, except in cases of fraud, deception or the use of force." AQA's logo depicted a stressed but smiling duck flying through the "Q" of AQA. The group quietly stopped operating in 1989.

AQA's Leaders

AQA's founder and vice president was Roy Kupsinel, M.D. (1928-2007), a "holistic" practitioner in Ovieda, Florida. Kupsinel published Health Consciousness, a bimonthly magazine with articles on "holistic" health care, cosmic philosophy, conservative causes, and the "persecution" of his beloved colleagues. It also contained ads for questionable products and services. While AQA remained active, the last few pages of Health Consciousness were printed upside down as the Journal of the American Quack Association. In a 1987 issue of Health Consciousness, Kupsinel stated that he had suffered from hypoglycemia; mercury-amalgam toxicity; allergies to foods, chemicals and inhalants; hypothyroidism; and eight other "common denominators of degenerative disease." [2] The article also described how he had been expelled from his county and state medical societies following charges related to his "nutritional/hypoglycemia practice." (Among other things, he had been treating large numbers of patients for hypoglycemia, a condition that scientific authorities consider rare.) Kupsinel also got into trouble with the Florida's medical licensing board, which issued this summary in June 1996, when the charges were settled:

Charged with making deceptive, untrue, or fraudulent representations in or related to the practice of medicine or employing a trick or scheme in the practice of medicine; violating any provision of Chapter 458, Florida Statutes, a rule of the board or department, or a lawful order of the board or department previously entered in a disciplinary hearing or failing to comply with a lawfully issued subpoena of the department; and false, deceptive, or misleading advertising. ACTION TAKEN - In lieu of further prosecution, consented to a reprimand; an administrative fine of $3,500; restricted from injecting hydrogen peroxide or adrenal cortex solution; restricted from advertising that he was awarded the "N.M.D. Award" or any other certifications or specializations not recognized by the American Board of Medical Specialties or the Florida Board of Medicine; five years of probation with indirect supervision; and restrictions on advertising [3].

In 1987, Health Consciouness subscribers received a 12-page insert promoting a tax avoidance plan marketed by Michael L. Kailing, a tax accountant in Honolulu, Hawaii. The letter offered a $600 package of documents that would allegedly enable the buyer to set up a foundation and avoid legal difficulty merely by informing the Internal Revenue Service that the plan had been based on professional legal advice. In 2002, Kailing was indicted on a charge of conspiring to defraud the IRS through the promotion and sale of tax evasion schemes.

AQA's president and co-founder was Jonathan V. Wright, M.D., a Harvard graduate who obtained his medical degree at the University of Michigan and began practicing "nutritional medicine" in 1973 at his Tahoma Clinic in Kent, Washington, a few miles southeast of Seattle. He and Alan Gaby, M.D., of Baltimore, give seminars for health professionals on "Nutrition as Therapy," which present their theories in detail. (AQA's first 16 members were recruited at the May 1985 seminar.) Wright also operates the Meridian Valley Laboratory, a facility that does many nonstandard tests. From 1993 through 1998, Wright helped lead the National Health Federation, a group whose primary goal is to abolish government regulation of health-care activities.

In the early 1990s, Wright achieved considerable notoriety battling the FDA. The dispute surfaced in July 1991 when law enforcement officers seized 103 bottles of L-tryptophan from the For Your Health Pharmacy, adjacent to Wright's clinic. The FDA had banned the marketing of L-tryptophan after it was implicated in an outbreak of eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome, but Wright continued to prescribe it. In August 1991, he filed suit, asserting that the outbreak was due to a contaminant and that his tryptophan was safe and therefore legal to dispense. The suit also asked the court to return the product and bar the FDA from "unreasonably interfering" with his ability to exercise clinical judgment in treating patients.

During the same month, according to an FDA affidavit, FDA investigators observed mold in some glass vials at the pharmacy and were informed that the products had been made at a laboratory adjacent to Wright's clinic. Further investigation indicated that Wright and the pharmacist were co-owners of the laboratory and clinic and that a clandestine manufacturing facility was being constructed in a vacant business next to the pharmacy [4]. When the investigators went to the laboratory, Wright would not permit them to conduct a full inspection. During the next few months, however, illegally marketed products were identified by inspecting trash from the clinic and pharmacy.

In December 1991, an FDA inspector posed as a patient and was diagnosed with an Interro device, a computerized galvanometer that measures changes in the skin's electrical resistance and depicts them on the screen of a monitor. (The reading on the screen is determined by how hard the probe is pressed against the patient's finger; the harder the pressure, the less skin resistance and the higher the reading. The FDA Center for Devices and Radiologic Health has said that such devices are "adulterated and misbranded" and can have no legal medical use [5].) The inspector reported that the woman who operated the device probed points on one of his fingers while selecting items on the screen that were said to represent substances to which he might be allergic. The woman explained that the height of a vertical bar that appeared when she probed his finger would indicate whether or not he was sensitive to the item being tested. After the test was completed, a printer next to the monitor printed a list of foods, chemicals, and other substances, with numerical values corresponding to readings on the Interro screen. Then he was given several homeopathic medicines, instructions for using them, and an article saying that they would result in dramatic relief of his allergic symptoms [6].

In February 1992, Wright's clinic posted a notice claiming that state-licensed physicians are "exempt from the restrictions and regulations of the federal Food and Drug Administration as a matter of federal law." The notice also stated that "no employee, agent or inspector of the FDA shall be permitted on these premises."

On May 4, 1992, a U.S. magistrate issued warrants authorizing the FDA to conduct criminal searches at Wright's clinic and the adjacent pharmacy [. The warrants were based on affidavits which concluded that the clinic had been "receiving, using, and dispensing several unapproved and misbranded foreign-manufactured injectable drug products" and that the pharmacy had been dispensing them. Two days later, FDA agents accompanied local police officers who broke down the front door of the Tahoma clinic. Wright and his supporters claim that the search party entered with guns drawn and terrorized the clinic staff. Federal officials state that the police broke down the door because the clinic staff had refused to open it when they knocked, a gun was drawn because the officers suspected that those inside might be hostile, but the gun was never pointed at anyone and was reholstered as soon as the area was deemed safe. The authorities seized products, patient files, computer records, and Interro devices from the clinic and additional materials from the pharmacy. Two weeks later, the state pharmacy board summarily suspended the pharmacy's license, an action taken only when the board feels that public health may be endangered.

Sherman L. Cox, Assistant Secretary for Licensing and Certification for the state of Washington, noted that the For Your Health pharmacy "was manufacturing a number of drugs and was distributing these drugs not only to patients on prescription but also to other doctors around the country for use in their offices. . . . In addition, the pharmacy was not properly licensed as a manufacturer and the drugs were being made under unsafe conditions." The pharmacy subsequently gave up its license and operated as a health-food store.

Wright and his allies characterized the search procedure as "the Vitamin-B Bust" and sold videotapes showing part of the raid, the reaction of several clinic employees, and demonstrations staged by Wright supporters. However, Cox noted that the items seized "were not just injectable vitamins but included a number of unapproved drugs." He did concede that the police officers' fear of danger was the result of assuming that the FDA definition of "illegal drugs" was the same as the county's definition (which covered heroin, cocaine, etc.).

During a "Larry King Live" television broadcast, an FDA official said that the agency became interested in Wright's activities after someone complained that he was prescribing L-tryptophan and sending people to the pharmacy to have the prescriptions filled. Wright maintained that he had a right to do this because his supply was not contaminated. When Larry King asked why he thought the FDA ban did not apply to him, Wright replied, "My lawyer said I could use it."

In August 1992, Wright signed an agreement consenting to the destruction of the 103 bottles of L-tryptophan that had been seized and agreeing to pay at least $850 to cover court costs and fees associated with the action [7]. A grand jury was convened to determine whether Wright should be criminally prosecuted for violating FDA drug laws, but he was not indicted.

In 2013, the Washington Medical Quality Assurance Commission concluded that Wright had engaged in unprofessional conduct by employing an unlicensed physician (Roby Mitchell, whose Texas license had been revoked) in his clinic and had failed to cooperate with the Commission's investigation of his wrongdoing. The Commission suspended Wright's license for 90 days, to be followed by 30 months of probation, and ordered him to pay a $7,500 fine [8].

References

  1. The American Quack Association. Health Consciousness 8(3):4, 1987.
  2. Kupsinel R. The transition physician. Health Consciousness 8(2):16-19, 1987.
  3. Report on Physician Discipline and Malpractice, Tallahassee, FL: Florida Agency for Health Care Administration, April 1997, p 22.
  4. In the Matter of the Search of For Your Health Pharmacy, Inc., Application and affidavit for search warrant, Case #92-236n-02, May 4, 1992. U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington.
  5. Rollings JN. Letter to Stephen Barrett, M.D., November 28, 1986.
  6. In the Matter of the Search of Thoma Clinic and Meridian Valley Clinical Laboratory, Application and affidavit for search warrant, Case #92-236n-01, May 4, 1992. U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington.
  7. United States of America, plaintiff, v. 103/100 capsule bottles containing L-Aristophanes, defendant. No C91-1445. U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington at Seattle. Consent decree, Aug 20, 1992.
  8. Findings of fact, conclusions of law, and final order. In the matter of Jonathan V. Wright, M.D. Washington Medical Quality Assurance Commission, Master Case No. M2010-1697, May 15, 2013.

This article was revised on June 30, 2013,

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