FDA Cracks Down on Laetrile Resurgence

W A S H I N G T O N, Sept. 7, 2000 -- Federal health officials warned Internet usersto beware of a concoction made of apricot seeds that’stouted as a cancer cure, as a Florida court case became thegovernment’s latest attempt to quell a resurgence of laetrile.

In the 1970s, thousands of patients went to Mexico seekinglaetrile, and some doctors even sold it in the United States, before a National CancerInstitute study concluded that the substance did not fight cancer.Experts also warned that laetrile pills could cause cyanidepoisoning.

Subsequently, the Food and Drug Administration declared laetrile illegal.Several states fought the FDA action but courts backed thegovernment, ending laetrile’s heyday by 1980.

Now laetrile is rebounding on the Internet, sometimes sold underthe aliases amygdalin or “vitamin B17.”

On Wednesday, the FDA announced that a U.S. District judge in Miamihad issued a preliminary injunction halting sales of laetrile by three Internetsites, and warned consumers to beware.

Patients Forego Therapy

“We do not want people to take products that have not beenproven to be safe and effective,” said FDA enforcement chief JohnTaylor, noting that the biggest worry is that patients will foregoproven cancer therapy.

The judge’s ruling temporarily stops laetrile sales by WorldWithout Cancer Inc. and Health World International Inc., of BayHarbor, Fla., and Arizona-based Health Genesis Corp., which alsodoes business in Bay Harbor, while the court considers anFDA lawsuit seeking to permanently halt the sales. The FDA saidsince 1998 its inspectors have warned David E. Arjona, an officialof all three companies, that laetrile is illegal, yet thoseinspectors were able to buy laetrile from his Web site in June.

Arjona did not return a phone call. His attorney, KirkpatrickDilling of Chicago, was not aware of the preliminary injunction, butsaid his client “hasn’t sold one thing that’s harmful toanybody.”

The Florida case is the FDA’s third laetrile crackdown thisyear, part of the agency’s new attempt to block Internet sales ofunapproved drugs. In April, a federal judge ordered a New Yorkcompany to stop selling laetrile; in July, a federal grand juryindicted an Ohio laetrile seller.

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