Charges laid for sale of health supplementProduct alleged to cure mental illness
The Calgary Herald
An Alberta health food company that claims to have a cure for mental illnesses is facing six charges under the Food and Drugs Act for allegedly importing and selling its product without government approval.
The charges come nearly a year after RCMP and Health Canada raided the Raymond main office of Truehope Nutritional Support Ltd.
Truehope, along with its related company Synergy Group of Canada Inc., markets a nutritional supplement called Empowerplus that it believes can cure a variety of mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder.
But Canadian law forbids companies from making health claims about its products without first compiling a certain amount of scientific proof to back them up, and Health Canada says Synergy has not yet met those standards.
Company founders David Hardy and Tony Stephan are vowing to fight charges, claiming the law is unconstitutional. They say the real victims are their thousands of clients in Canada, the U.S. and elsewhere, who depend on Empowerplus to keep mentally stable.
"This is a piece of injustice to the Canadian people that is really a travesty," said Hardy.
"We've made every effort to keep people's lives intact and in order here and not have any more suicides. But when it's illegal to help people, you know you're really in a state of miserableness."
Empowerplus has some high-profile supporters, including Nanaimo-Alberni Conservative MP James Lunney, who has blasted the government for trying to deprive Canadians of a product they want.
And last year, Ron LaJeunesse, executive director of the Canadian Mental Health Association's Alberta division, said he knows many people who have been essentially cured of mental illness after taking Empowerplus. And he warned that withdrawing the product from the market could result in "dozens of suicides."
"If there's no opportunity for people to take it, at best we're going to see some mental patients going back to hospital," he told the Herald. "At worst, they'll die."
There is some preliminary scientific evidence the pills might be effective. A 2001 article in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry found 19 of the 22 male bipolar patients tested showed a positive response, with 11 stable for up to nine months without other drugs. A small study at the University of Calgary by Bonnie Kaplan found similar results.
There are also many skeptics of Empowerplus, who claim it is nothing more than snake oil and that Hardy and Stephan are profiting off vulnerable mental health patients.
"The mentally ill community is being targeted and being used in a business-opportunity way for a couple of lay people to make a good living," said Ron Reinhold, a private investigator, former Health Canada drug inspector and a former board member of the Schizophrenia Society of Alberta.
Empowerplus is an amalgam of about 36 vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants, many of which are commonly sold over the counter.
Health Canada issued an advisory June 6, 2003, warning people not to take Empowerplus because it could put their health at risk.
The charges, under section 31 of the Food and Drugs Act, are summary offences and the maximum punishment for each is $500 or three months in jail.
The first court appearance will be in Lethbridge next month.