A jury in Washington in June convicted a man of conspiracy, smuggling, and defrauding the United States because he marketed a concentrated form of bleach as a miracle cure. He was sentenced to more than four years in prison on Oct. 28..
From 2007 to 2011, Louis Daniel Smith operated a business called Project GreenLife that sold a product called "Miracle Mineral Supplement" online. MMS contains a diluted form of sodium chlorite, which Smith instructed customers to mix with citric acid to create chlorine dioxide, and then drink.
Chlorine dioxide is primarily used in industrial applications to bleach wood and treat wastewater, and causes nausea, diarrhea, and dehydration when ingested by humans. The instructions that Smith provided with his MMS product stated that these symptoms were all signs that the MMS was doing its job. Instructions also stated that the product could be safely used on pregnant women, children, and infants. This "miracle cure," he claimed, could treat AIDS, cancer, autism, malaria, hepatitis, lyme disease, asthma, and the common cold.
"This verdict demonstrates that the Department of Justice will prosecute those who sell dangerous chemicals as miracle cures to sick people and their desperate loved ones," Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Benjamin C. Mizer said in a statement released by the Justice Department's Civil Division. "Consumers have the right to expect that the medicines that they purchase are safe and effective."
For years Smith managed to hide from U.S. regulators by making fake "water purification" and "wastewater treatment" businesses to obtain and ship the MMS. Three others who worked with Smith already pleaded guilty to introducing misbranded products into interstate commerce.
"[Smith] was taking advantage of desperate people and desperate parents," Steven Novella, assistant professor of neurology at Yale School of Medicine, told BuzzFeed News. "It's the perfect storm of snake oil quackery."
There are still others in the so-called “autism biomed” community who argue that MMS can successfully treat the condition.
Autism is a largely genetic disorder that stems from problems in fetal brain development. Turning against this scientific consensus, some online communities claim to have treatments that can help "cure" it. Other false cures include things like chelation therapy, oxygen therapy, and highly restricted diets.
"The whole endeavor is scientifically flawed," Novella said. "They subject children to a lot of harsh and unsafe and unpleasant treatments out of hope that it'll cure them, but MMS is the worst one."
MMS was first touted for use by a man named Jim Humble, author of such books as Secrets of Enlightenment and Zero Fusion and Atomic Alchemy (available for e-book download for $99). Though a website is still selling "Jim Humble's MMS Authentic," it now displays a banner claiming that all shipments will end on June 14.
Another prominent proponent of MMS, Kerri Rivera, still runs a website claiming the benefits of MMS and recommending that parents administer it every two hours for three days, as well as giving MMS enemas three times a week. Her site does not sell the product.
Other U.S. websites, not specific to autism in particular, still sell the product online.
The FDA has limited oversight over products like MMS because they are marketed as "supplements." Unlike pharmaceutical companies, supplement manufacturers don't have to prove their product's efficacy before selling it.
Smith's conviction is one example of regulatory agencies going after people marketing dangerous supplements. But with Smith headed to prison, others will likely crop up in his place, Novella said. "If there's money to be made doing this, they'll do it."
Azeen Ghorayshi is a science reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. Her PGP Fingerprint is 9739 9DAE 607E A66A 3683 AC20 E34B D2A0 8899 74C4
Contact Azeen Ghorayshi at Azeen.Ghorayshi@buzzfeed.com.
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