Fake Cure Earns Maryland Man Prison Term

Thousands bilked by aloe vera 'treatment', says FDA

TUESDAY, Dec. 11, 2001 (HealthDayNews) -- A Maryland man will spend almost four years in prison because he duped thousands of cancer, AIDS and autoimmune-disease patients into buying his "miracle" aloe vera cure. In addition to jail time, Allen J. Hoffman, 55, who did business as T-Up, Inc., of Baltimore, and Astec Biologics, Inc., of Hanover, Pa., was ordered to pay more than $200,000 in restitution to his victims, reports the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Hoffman, sentenced early this month to 46 months in prison, pled guilty in September in U.S. District Court in Baltimore to two felony charges of introducing an unapproved drug into interstate commerce with the intent to defraud the public, says the FDA. He'll begin serving the sentence in January.

Investigators first became aware of Hoffman after arresting a doctor who was distributing Hoffman's aloe vera treatment as a cure for HIV, says Virginia Evans, the assistant U.S. Attorney who prosecuted the case. Hoffman also marketed his aloe vera concoction as a cure for cancer. Patients met Hoffman in the Bahamas or in Tijuana, Mexico, and paid him $15,000 to $18,000 to receive a two-week treatment of intravenous aloe vera, Evans says. He also sold a mixture of aloe vera and other unapproved drugs as a treatment for autoimmune diseases, the FDA says. Aloe vera is best known as a kitchen herb for salving minor burns and easing skin problems; herbalists historically give it internally for weak digestion, as a laxative, for yeast infections and other such ailments. Chronic use of aloe can lead to heart problems.

The reason he was indicted was that even after being enjoined by Maryland consumer protection officials and the federal government to stop selling these products, he continued to sell aloe vera as a cancer treatment, and he continued to solicit U.S. citizens to travel to offshore clinics for treatment, says Evans.

Hoffman, who has no medical degree and falsely claimed to have a doctoral degree, sold his products to more than 3,000 patients, the FDA says.

"Cancer patients want to live and therefore will look for any treatment that holds promise," says Teri Ades, director of quality of life and health promotion strategy for the American Cancer Society. Evans says, "It's hard for desperate cancer patients to look at what someone says with a critical eye."

Both Evans and Ades advise caution when trying unconventional therapies for medical conditions. "Many of the therapies can be presented to sound very promising, but oftentimes, the stories just aren't true," says Ades.

What To Do

Ades say the most important part of any treatment is discussing it with your doctor first. Also, she says, research the therapy as much as possible. She and Evans suggest talking to patients who have had the therapy before trying it.

If a treatment is available only in other countries, it probably hasn't been approved by the FDA and is not likely to be legitimate, Evans says. Also, if you have to pay cash up front, or there seems to be an urgency or time pressure to the treatment, that's a treatment you should avoid.

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission offers this advice on avoiding false medical cures. And, here are tips from the U. S. Postal Inspection Service.

And check Quackwatch for health fraud schemes.

SOURCES: Interviews with Virginia Evans, assistant U.S. Attorney, District of Maryland, Baltimore; Teri Ades, R.N., director, quality of life and health promotion strategy, American Cancer Society, Atlanta, Ga.; Dec. 5, 2001, FDA talk paper
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