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Truehope backers warn of suicides
Health Canada insists raid was necessary
 
David Heyman
Calgary Herald
CREDIT: Calgary Herald Archive
 
Tony Stephan, left, and business partner David Hardy of Truehope.
 

A Health Canada raid on the offices of a company producing a purported nutritional cure for mental illness has sparked a ferocious war of words between hard-core believers and skeptics of the product.

Supporters say the supplement Empowerplus -- a mix of 36 vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants -- is a miracle cure and some people may take their own lives if they can't get it.

Detractors, however, say the company has been growing wealthy selling something no better than a placebo to very vulnerable people.

Ron LaJeunesse, executive director of the Canadian Mental Health Association's Alberta division, says he knows many people who have been essentially cured of mental illness after taking Empowerplus.

"It's going to result in dozens of suicides. I know of two already," he said.

"If there's no opportunity for people to take it, at best we're going to see some mental patients going back to hospital. At worst, they'll die."

Others cheered the Tuesday raid on the Raymond offices of Truehope Nutritional Support Ltd., saying it's about time the government took some action to stop the sale of Empowerplus.

Kaj Korvela, the head of the Calgary-based Organization for Bipolar Affective Disorders, said he doesn't believe the supplement is as effective as its supporters say. He says he knows of many people who got more ill when they dropped their prescribed medications in favour of Empowerplus.

"It was too expensive, it made them worse and most of them went back on their medication," said Korvela.

A Health Canada spokeswoman said Wednesday the government is standing firm on its decision to initiate the surprise search, which aimed to collect proof Truehope and its sister company, Synergy Group of Canada, were marketing and selling a drug without government permission.

Krista Apse said the companies have yet to meet the most basic requirements when making health claims about its product -- namely, providing scientific evidence it's safe and effective.

"We're taking action to protect the health of Canadians," said Apse, speaking from Ottawa Wednesday.

Employees of Empowerplus's company Truehope Nutritional Support Ltd. were stunned Tuesday morning when RCMP officers acting on a search warrant burst into their office in Raymond, south of Lethbridge, and shut the company down for a day while they looked for documents.

About 19 hours later, officers carted away nine boxes of material and the company began operating as normal Wednesday morning.

But the raid stirred up a hornet's nest of fury, and now many of those employees along with several others are planning to protest Friday outside the Edmonton office of federal Health Minister Anne McLellan, to express their outrage.

"There's an uprising of resentment with what Health Canada is doing," said David Hardy, one of two main owners of Truehope, along with his colleague Tony Stephan. "If they're really interested in health, why are they restricting access to something that's obviously effective?"

Hardy says several scientific studies have shown Empowerplus is safe and effective -- including a preliminary project by University of Calgary researcher Bonnie Kaplan.

"They have ample evidence this is safe and effective. They can't prove otherwise."

Apse said Truehope and Synergy have never filed a new drug submission, despite several requests to do so, and have refused to comply with its orders to stop selling Empowerplus in the meantime.

Last month, Health Canada issued a health advisory about Empowerplus, warning Canadians not to take it. It has also been intercepting shipments of it at the U.S. border but continues to allow people to bring back the product for personal use, defined as a three-month supply for a single person.

Health Canada has not decided if or when it will file charges under the Food and Drugs Act.

dheyman@theherald.canwest.com

 Copyright  2003 Calgary Herald



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