Monday, November 30, 2009

Skeptic North: Fake Doctors With Real Drugs: The News From Canada

Sorry for the long delay in getting a post up. I've been busy becoming a nutritionist (It is hard work becoming something that anyone can claim to be!). Below is an important message about a law in Ontario that should concern you.

Reposted from "Swift"

Dear Swift Friends:
My name is Steve Thoms and I'm the editor of the new pan-Canadian skeptic blog, Skeptic North. Thanks to some friendly promotional assistance from Phil Plait, and many other sites to whom our team owes a debt of gratitude, you may have heard of us by now. If not, that's okay, because we've only launched on October 1st. We're a team of skeptical writers, professionals and activists from across Canada, brought together in one place for the first time. Our aim is to be the authority of all things related to skepticism in Canada, and it is with this last point in mind that I come to you all with an urgent call for action and assistance.

As Skeptic North's resident science-based pharmacist reported week, the Ontario legislature is poised to grant prescription rights to naturopaths. I think I hardly need explain to Swift readers how dangerous this is, but please indulge me in a little exposition.

Bill 179 was introduced in the spring of this year as a way of expanding scope-of-practice for health care professionals in Ontario, including (but not limited to) nurses, midwives, pharmacists and radiologists. Such an expansion was recommended by the Health Professions Regulatory Advisory Council (HPRAC), and this organization also recommended further that naturopaths be granted prescription rights. The Bill would have aimed to do this by amending a previous act of the Ontario Legislature, the Naturopathy Act, 2007. In this act, a "naturopath" is defined simply as someone who graduated from one of the two naturopathic colleges in Canada (neither of which are affiliated with any Canadian accredited university, and have extensive courses in homeopathy, Traditional Chinese Medicine, and colonic hydrotherapy). After the first reading of the bill, the HPRAC's recommendation for naturopath prescribing rights were soundly rejected. Before the bill's second-reading, a coalition of naturopathic associations organized a write-in campaign to put the naturopathic amendment back into the bill, and they were successful on Oct 20.

The bill itself has gone through two readings so far, and the third and final reading has been ordered (but not yet scheduled). The current session of the Ontario legislature will likely be over in less than a month, so the bill will likely be presented for it's third reading, at which point it will be enshrined in law. Then naturopaths, homeopaths, acupuncturists, and Reiki practitioners will have the right to prescribe anti-inflammatory, anti-biotic, and narcotic (just to name a few) medications.

Supporters of the naturopath expansion have framed this issue in two disingenuous and/or problematic narratives: one of freedom, and one of access. The former is being presented as allowing Ontario citizens the freedom to seek out alternative health modalities and freedom for naturopaths to prescribe medications that they need to; the latter as a way of dealing with the doctor shortage. Both of these arguments are deeply concerning, because a) there is no law in Canada that prohibits citizens from seeking alternative treatments, and b) if a person who requires legitimate medical attention and feels they are unable to see a doctor in a timely manner, they are far more likely to seek out alternative avenues, potentially finding a dangerously-untrained and under-qualified naturopath.

This is not a matter of freedom of choice, nor is it a matter of helping deal with the doctor shortage. This is about granting political legitimacy to a pseudo-science when it's practitioners are unable to gain legitimacy the way that conventional medicine does: through science, evidence, testing, and peer-review. Most people are not skeptics, and when they hear "Naturopathic Doctor," many are just as likely to see the holder of title as just another primary care provider. Think about that when your mother needs heart medication, or your nephew gets an ear infection.

Defeating a bill in its third reading is rare, but not impossible. I'm asking for all Swift readers (especially the Canadians and Ontarians) to email the Ontario Premier, Dalton McGuinty, and (, as well as the Minister of Long-Term Health and Care, Deb Mattews, ( It would also be wise to CC the same email to Andrea Horwath, leader of the New Democratic Party ( and Tim Hudak, leader of the Progressive Conservative Party ( The bill is under review by the Standing Committee on Social Policy (for a complete list of the members of the committee, click here), so Ontario residents would do well to email them as well. Remember to CC all correspondences, so that everyone knows who else is reading what.

For further information, visit the above links as well as my own follow-up posts here and here. These links will provide a helpful background and analysis of the practice of naturopathy, its academic standards, the bill itself, and how best to respond. British Columbia has already passed similar legislation, but it's generally the way of things in Canada that however Ontario goes, so-goes the rest of Canada. We really need everyone's help defeating this affront to health care standards and patient safety. If we beat them in Ontario, we just might stop them in their tracks.

If anyone has any questions, feel free to contact me directly at

Thanks a million
Steve Thoms
Skeptic North

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Simply repeating lies does not make them truths

Over the past many weeks, I've encountered a great number of people who are misinformed about vaccinations/immunizations and the concern of the novel Influenza A H1N1. Previous posts have addressed the science and statistics behind this but I am constantly bombarded with "it was rushed through" or countless "personal stories" (anecdotes).

I must first say that anecdotes would be more useful if they weren't regularly complete lies. I had a follower of my blog (who wishes to remain anonymous) send me an email about statements posted on Facebook relating to Gary Null and a response that he (the facebook user) had sent to someone about the video. Much of what he had sent (as a response) was spot-on. He provided many links and valid questions that people should be asking about Gary Null (not a real doctor, by the way - at best he paid the shipping and handling on a fake Ph.D.).

What followed, yesterday, was amazing. A response from someone (not known to my blog follower, he suggests) who called him "uneducated" (among other things) and then suggested that someone close to her received a shot and couldn't walk or talk after that.*

Other points that were made (and I see and hear them all the time) were:
"We stopped testing for H1N1 on September 30 so any numbers about deaths are just guesses"
"The flu shot causes GBS" (this girl even went as far as to say that IN SARNIA in a dentist office of only 4000 clients, they have 7 people with GBS)
"It is all hype"
"It is no worse than the common flu"

And, as expected, a link to "Dr Mercola"'s site. (Note "Dr" Mercola is not an MD, he's an osteopath)

First, let me say, that dealing with idiocy is an uphill battle. It takes a long time to dispel myths and falsities - longer than many people are willing to focus on a particular issue. The anti-vax movement wins because people don't understand the real issues at hand and they don't put much value on the protection of the lives of others.

The suggestion that we "stopped testing for H1N1" is possibly an accurate one as it relates to testing everyone who presents with symptoms. With an overwhelming percentage of the samples tested coming back as H1N1, the need to keep testing everyone who presents with flu like symptoms disappears. It is a confirmed FACT that the 2009 Pandemic H1N1 is present in all Canadian provinces. We don't need to keep testing to prove that.

We are, however, still "testing" for deaths, hospitalizations and ICU admissions attributed to the H1N1 flu. There's even a website that you can go to that is updated twice weekly with the deaths.
The "FluWatch" that is put out by the Public Health Agency of Canada reports the hospitalizations and ICU admissions - but on a slightly less frequent basis. The most recent at the time of writing is:

Addressing the "flu shot causes GBS" claim is a little bit different. Scientific studies have shown that the prevalence of GBS in vaccinated populations is not statistically different from the baseline - about 1 in 1,000,000 (1 million). The risk of dying from GBS is less than 4 in 100,000,000 (100 million). As Dr. Novella (a REAL doctor) says: "If recognized early and treated properly, most patients with GBS have a short illness – days to weeks – and recover nearly fully. However, severe or untreated cases can result in permanent paralysis and there is a 3-4% death rate." Given that people who get flu shots over-report symptoms, it is likely that anyone receiving a flu shot would quickly present themselves for treatment if GBS symptoms occurred.

The risk, however, by simply looking at CURRENT numbers (up to November 10th, 2009) of DYING from the Pandemic H1N1 2009 flu is, well, let's do the math together:
Canadians as of 2008: 33,311,389
Deaths from H1N1 2009 to date: 135
Chance of dying from H1N1 = 1 in 246,751

When weighing the risk versus the benefit, the reward is substantial.

Heck, let's compare hospitalizations from GBS to Hospitalizations from H1N1:
Up until Oct 31, there have been 2440 CONFIRMED cases of H1N1 requiring hospitalization (661 during the week of Oct 25 - 31 alone - Stats for November are not listed on the site at the time of writing)
1 in 1,000,000 GBS cases = 33 GBS cases in Canada (I could not find any data that suggests ANY GBS cases in Canada in 2009 - if you come across any, please let me know at
That means that you are almost 74 times more likely to end up in the hospital with H1N1 being the cause than you will from GBS. (Keep in mind that the chance you will present with GBS does not change whether or not you get the H1N1 shot - so maybe you could be lucky and come down with both the flu and GBS.)

I could go on with statistics - heck, from August to October 31, over 14,000 people (of the limited numbers that were submitted for testing) presented themselves with H1N1 symptoms - with laboratory confirmations to boot! You do that math.

And 7 people with GBS going to a dentist's office with a patient base of only 4,000 - that's something that neither our "Health Unit" nor Bluewater Health could support. Considering any noticeable form of GBS would require hospitalization, we're left with calling this one bullsh!t.*

"It is all hype" is one that I don't fully disagree with. The panic over limited supply of the H1N1 shot was a mess. Personal interest stories like the 13 year old boy dying and the 2 month old dying (for cases close to Sarnia, anyway), drove demands for the immunization. Luckily Sarnia didn't face any real shortages (for the "at risk" population anyway) so the panic wasn't seen here.

Hype is all about perspective. I do agree that the risk of dying from H1N1 is not "high" compared to other things. What I don't agree with is that it is "just" hype - the threat is real, the deaths are real and the methods of prevention that we have are real. The risks of not being immunized FAR out-weigh any supposed risk of actually getting the shot. The risk of being hit by a car is not "high" but we still take the precautions of checking both ways before we cross the street.

"It's no worse than the seasonal/common flu" is a horrible, horrible, horrible argument to start with. The seasonal flu is terrible. On average, in Canada alone, 4,000 people died as a result of contracting the seasonal flu. Yeah, who cares about 4,000 people? We have a safe and effective means of reducing the transmission of the seasonal flu and, with greater numbers being immunized, we'd see a reduction in the number of deaths. Learn more. However, the links above (FluWatch) points to H1N1 being worse than the seasonal flu. Check the data, it speaks volumes.

As for "Dr." Mercola (not a real doctor(MD), he's an osteopath), consider some links I've posted before as well as some new ones.

*A final note about anecdotes: When medical stories that would be headline-making don't make even the local newspaper, it's not a conspiracy between the newspaper, everyone who works there, the medical industry, all scientists and every person who hears the story. It's probably just made up or has a much different explanation than they want you to believe.