Health Food Store Operators Ordered to Stop Unlicensed Medical Practice (1994)


Stephen Barrett, M.D.
January 4, 2020

In 1994, Massachusetts Attorney General Scott Harshbarger announced that his Consumer Protection and Antitrust Division had sued and obtained an assented-to preliminary injunction against Centro de Nutricion y Terapias Naturales, Inc., and Alcibiades Acosta, prohibiting them, or their employees, from engaging in the unauthorized practice of medicine and from advertising that they can cure, treat, or prevent any medical disease or condition. Harshbarger’s announcement stated:

  • Centro operated storefronts located at·1769 Washington St., in Boston, and 200 Essex Street in Lawrence. Each storefront offers vitamins, herbs and other products advertised as “medical remedies.”
  • These storefront locations also contained examining rooms where Acosta and other self-proclaimed doctors examined and treated patients for various ailments.
  • Centro also aired on radio station WRCA a 30-minute call-in program titled “Salud y Usted” (in English, Health and You”), Monday through Thursday, in which Acosta and others allegedly held themselves out as medical doctors, making false and misleading representations about the products they sold and the medical services they provided to consumers.
  • Employees at Centro were further alleged to have fabricated medical problems and made false diagnoses for the purpose of selling “patients” their products [1].

Under the terms of the preliminary injunction, Centro and its employees, including Acosta, were also prohibited from advertising that any article sold by them has any curative or medical treatment value, unless the article has been approved approximately by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The company has also agreed not to advertise that any individual working with them is a physician, unless the person is licensed by the Commonwealth, nor may they imply that an individual is a physician by using the title “doctor,” without providing the basis for the title. The injunction further prohibited Centro from making misleading testimonials or unsubstantiated claims, concealing that their radio program constitutes paid advertising, selling misbranded drugs, and failing to disclose that they were not authorized to sell articles intended to cure, mitigate, or treat diseases that were not approved by the FDA.

The injunction was made permanent in 1995.The defendant were also required to (a) include disclaimers in their radio advertisements stating that they are paid commercials, (b) disclose and that none of the defendants or their agents are licensed physicians, and (c) pay $51,000 in civil penalties [2].

References
  1. A.G. Harshbarger halts unauthorized practice of medicine and deceptive advertising of medical services and products. Massachusetts Attorney General news release, March 16, 1994.
  2. Report of the Attorney General for the Year Ending June 30, 1995.