Over the years, I have written about many quack medical products for veterinary patients, and about many veterinarians and others who sell or use these products with impunity despite laws intended to protect pets and pet owners from ineffective or harmful snake oil. Unfortunately, these laws are weak and rarely enforced, and even when regulators take action, it doesn’t seem to deter illegal and fraudulent behavior.
Dr. Gloria Dodd was sanctioned by the California Veterinary Medical Board and warned by the FDA, yet she continued her practices until the end of her life, and her business is still active. Dr. Andrew Jones was sanctioned by authorities and gave up his medical license, yet he thrives as an internet entrepreneur. Dr. Al Plechner had a long career providing dangerous treatment based on untested and unscientific ideas, and though at the end of his life was he being investigated by the veterinary medical board, others continue to promote his practices. The bogus supplement Renavast was banned by the FDA, yet continues to be made and sold in the U.S. under a new name.
The seemingly endless list of people and products that freely and repeatedly violate not only any reasonable scientific standard for a medical therapy but often specific laws intended to protect consumers from quack medicines, make it is easy to feel that the effort to promote science-based medicine is entirely futile. However, every once in a while, under the rarest and most extreme of circumstances, a little glimmer of hope shines through. Today, that glimmer comes from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
United States Attorney William M. McSwain announced that Jonathan Nyce, 70, of Collegeville, PA, was charged by Indictment with wire fraud and the interstate shipment of misbranded animal drugs. The charges arise from a years-long scheme to defraud pet owners of money by falsely claiming to sell canine cancer-curing drugs.
“The defendant’s alleged conduct here is shameful,” said U.S. Attorney McSwain. “As any dog owner will tell you – myself included – pets quickly become part of the family. And when they become sick, caring owners look for hope, often doing everything they can to keep their beloved pets alive and well. The defendant is charged with taking advantage of that nurturing instinct in the worst way possible by defrauding pet owners and giving them false hope that they might be able to save their dying pet. That is both cruel and illegal, and now the defendant will face the consequences.”
I wrote about Tumexal, and Mr. Nyce, back in 2014. While I chose to ignore the irrelevant salacious details of Mr. Nyce’s personal life, I pointed out that his claims about Tumexal included many of the classic warning signs of quackery, and that it was highly improbable that his claims were true or that his product was effective. A superficial evaluation of the product web site showed many reasons to reject it as snake oil out of hand, and a further investigation into the claims and Mr. Nyce’s background made it even clearer that the person and the product should not be trusted.
Despite this, the product website was active from 2013 to 2018, and tens of thousands of dollars were made selling this product to vulnerable pet owners. My satisfaction at seeing this fraud brought to an end is diminished somewhat by how long it took to accomplish and by all the similar fraud that seems to continue unimpeded by law enforcement. And I will be honest, I have concerns that ultimately Mr. Nyce will escape conviction or punishment and eventually return to selling snake oil through some exploitable weakness in the legal case against him.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office press release, “’American pet owners rely on the FDA to ensure their pets’ drugs are safe and effective,’ said Special Agent in Charge Mark McCormack, FDA Office of Criminal Investigations’ Metro Washington Field Office. ‘We will continue to investigate and bring to justice those who ignore or attempt to circumvent the law.’”
I appreciate the sentiment, but I have doubts about the effectiveness of its execution.