The death of Jade Erick: Why state licensure doesn’t protect patients from naturopathic quackery

Ever since I first realized that naturopathy is a cornucopia of quackery administered by naturopaths in a “One from Column A, Two from Column B”-style of practice, I’ve opposed the licensure of naturopaths. Not surprisingly, naturopaths crave state licensure because it puts the imprimatur of the state on their pseudomedical profession. More importantly, it makes it more likely that health insurance companies will actually pay for their services. Unfortunately, thus far, 19 states, five Canadian provinces, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands have all passed laws licensing naturopaths, and naturopaths always want more. Whenever they fail to get a licensure bill passed, they always come back again. Eventually, they usually get what they want. That’s what happened earlier this year in Massachusetts. Meanwhile, supplement companies are supporting the efforts of naturopaths to win over state legislatures with propaganda portraying naturopaths as perfectly acceptable primary care providers who emphasize lifestyle and prevention over those evil pharmaceuticals. They’re nothing of the sort, of course, but it’s effective political propaganda to win licensure.

The Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges (AANMC) cites these alleged “benefits” of naturopathic licensure:

  • Allows for better patient healthcare.
  • Creates public safety in relation to alternative therapies.
  • Reduces healthcare costs via prevention.
  • Ultimately has a positive effect on the entire medical community.

Here in my own state, the Michigan Association of Naturopathic Physicians argue for licensure (which, fortunately, they don’t have yet) with these talking points:

  • Licensure would allow Naturopathic Physicians to practice under the full scope of medicine for which they were trained.
  • Local communities would enjoy an increase in safe and natural healthcare options and highly individualized medial care.
  • Naturopathic Physicians would help ease a stressed and overburdened medical system by filling the much-needed role for primary care medicine in the State of Michigan.
  • Licensure would make it more feasible for patients to get insurance coverage for Naturopathic Medical Care.
  • Patients would not have to travel outside Michigan to see licensed Naturopathic Physicians.
  • Licensure would help increase jobs by encouraging more Naturopathic Physicians to move to Michigan communities and relieve rural areas without availability of health care.

These are familiar talking points. They’re also all a load of fetid dingos’ kidneys. Let me translate. Naturopaths are saying that “licensed” naturopaths from “accredited” naturopathy schools are not like “those” naturopaths, who are the real quacks. No, say the naturopaths, we’re real doctors ma-an. Basically, they try to convince legislatures that (1) naturopathy is science-based (it’s not, other than the actual science-based modalities naturopaths have co-opted, such as diet and exercise, and corrupted with woo); (2) naturopathic medicine has value (it doesn’t); and (3) naturopaths can regulate themselves.

Quack AttackThere are many examples that put the lie to this last talking point. Most recently, in the state of California, a licensed naturopath killed a patient with what was reported in the press to be intravenous turmeric but was probably intravenous curcumin. The victim was a young woman named Jade Erick, and the naturopath was Kim Kelly, who operated in Encinitas, CA. He was treating her for eczema, and she was only 30 when she rapidly went into cardiopulmonary arrest as the infusion started.

As I documented, licensure didn’t stop Kelly from advertising and administering to his patients all manner of utter quackery. For example, Kelly offers he offers biopuncture, naturopathic detoxing, hormonal balance treatment, IV nutrition, and “wellness programs.” Biopuncture, I note, is an unholy combination of acupuncture and homeopathy so quacky as to defy belief. On Kelly’s blog, I found—surprise! surprise!—more quackery, such as (of course) more biopuncture and more “detoxification,” along with other quackery such as adrenal fatigue treatment, intravenous vitamin C, and a dangerous modality like intravenous peroxide for chronic infections.

So more than a month later, the question, of course, is: What’s going to happen? At the time, I predicted that likely nothing would happen, as I caught David Field, the chair of the Naturopathic Medical Committee of California, which is the body that is responsible for overseeing naturopathic practice, looking for dirt on conventional medicine. His fellow naturopaths were happy to give it to him, citing all manner of “death by medicine” studies that blame hundreds of thousands of deaths on iatrogenesis. every year. At the time, I thought he was tipping his hand in any investigation of Kim Kelly, but a commenter reminded me that he was scheduled to testify soon in front of the legislature because the law licensing naturopaths expires at the end of 2017 and needs to be renewed, lest it sunset and leave the status of naturopaths in California uncertain again. Truly, 2017 was a bad year for a high profile case like Kelly’s to hit the local and national media, leading naturopaths to go into damage control mode and circle the wagons, rather than ask what went wrong in the case of Jade Erick and why Kim Kelly was using intravenous curcumin to treat eczema when there is basically no good evidence to justify such a practice. When a fatality is involved, such an investigation is critical.

Ex-naturopath who saw the light, Britt Hermes, has reported more on this case, pointing out that California has a serious problem regulating its naturopaths. It turns out that the complaint over the death of Jade Erick was not the first complaint against Kim Kelly:

Almost a year before Erick’s death, a complaint was submitted against Kim Kelly for subjecting patients to treatments using ozone, a toxic gas without therapeutic value. The complaint included 33 other naturopathic doctors licensed in California who were also using or advertising so-called “ozone therapies.” According to complaint documents, Kelly was doing procedures called “prolozone,” in which ozone is injected into joints allegedly to promote healing. But he was also doing ozone insufflations, in which a catheter is used to insert the gas into a patient’s rectum or vagina. The complaint highlights the fact that California naturopathic doctors are not permitted to use ozone gas and that the U.S. Food and that Drug Administration prohibits ozone generators from being sold for medical purposes.

I’ve heard of ozone therapy, even intravenous ozone therapy, before. It’s pure quackery based upon the apparent naturopathic belief that more oxygen is always better. Damn, though, if Britt didn’t show me that, even this far into my blogging career, I still find new forms of quackery that I had never heard of before. Most commonly, these treatments come from naturopaths. “Prolozone”? Injecting ozone into joints to “promote healing”? That’s pretty bad. At the best all that happens is that the gas will be absorbed into the bloodstream. At the worst, the highly oxidative gas could do the exact opposite of “promoting healing” and provoke an inflammatory reaction that makes the arthritis worse. As for insufflating ozone into the rectum or vagina? The same issues apply. Ozone at high concentrations can damage tissue. It’s a toxic gas.

Naturopaths, as is their wont, advertise ozone (prolozone) as the cure for practically everything that ails you. For instance:

Prolozone® is a homeopathic/oxygen injection technique developed and pioneered by Dr. Shallenberger. It is excellent for all forms of musculo-skeletal and joint pain including chronic neck and back pain, rotator cuff injuries, degenerative and arthritic hips and knees, degenerated discs, and shoulder and elbow pain. The good thing about Prolozone is that because it actually corrects the pathology of the disorder, there is a 75% chance for the chronic pain sufferer to becoming permanently pain free.

But what on earth do naturopaths claim that shooting ozone up a woman’s vagina can do? Well, there’s this:

Many women have reported relief from yeast infections and various sexually transmitted diseases including herpes. Many women also use this method as an alternative to rectal insufflation as it is theorized that the ozone not only affects the pelvic region, but also enters the general circulation causing a body wide effect. (We believe vaginal and rectal insufflation are equally effective for system effect.)

Good to know.

Then there’s this:

What conditions benefit from Vaginal Ozone?

  • Yeast, bacterial and viral vaginal infections
  • Unexplained pain in or around the vagina
  • Labia pain
  • Pain with intercourse
  • Pelvic Pain

You can even find videos telling you how to set up ozone generators to shoot ozone up your vagina or rectum:

In it, we learn that rectal and vaginal ozone insufflation are “excellent treatments for killing off pathogenic bacteria, fungi and yeast associated with the inflammation pathway that causes addictive biochemistry, auto immune disease, weight issues and many other epidemic metabolic disorders and diseases today.”

So it’s not just Kim Kelly in California subjecting patients to potentially harmful treatments. Lots of naturopaths are doing it, and there are numerous complaints. Rebecca Mitchell, the executive director of the California Naturopathic Medicine Committee, the body charged with protecting the public through the regulation of the state’s naturopathic doctors, wouldn’t comment on the status of the complaints, but the source of the original complaint confirmed to Britt Hermes that Mitchell told the complainant that the proceedings to investigate a complaint against a naturopath in California can take several months to a few years and “uses the same process and expert reviewers as the Medical Board and Osteopathic Medical Board.”

Hermes notes:

Mitchell’s description seems inconsistent with the fact that for its cases, the Naturopathic Medicine Committee relies upon naturopathic doctors as expert reviewers, who examine complaints covering deviations from the standard of practice. But since there is no “naturopathic standard of care,” a point that the committee acknowledged in 2009 and that critics of the regulation of naturopathy have noticed too, naturopathic expert reviewers must make ad hoc determinations that are likely to deviate from the medical consensus and fail to establish lasting precedent. For some influential naturopathic doctors, the standard of care includes anything taught in naturopathic school or done by two or more practitioners.

She also has observed that the Naturopathic Medicine Committee is very, very slow to investigate complaints against naturopaths compared to other regulatory boards, noting that the Committee took an average of 797 days to complete an intake and investigation. In comparison, it took the Medical Board took 230 days, and the Osteopathic Medical Board took 170 days. Astoundingly, it took the Naturopathic Medical Board an average of 134 days even to assign an investigator, compared to 15 days and 32 days, respectively, for the Medical Board and Osteopathic Medical Board, respectively, concluding:

No other health profession, from veterinary medicine to chiropractors, took as long as the naturopathic committee to initiate and complete investigations of its licensees. (Mitchell was unable to comment on these processing times.)

And noting:

By March 10, 2017, when Jade Erick received the curcumin IV, 294 days had passed since the Naturopathic Medicine Committee received the complaint that Kelly was operating outside his scope of practice with a dangerous substance.

Imagine how embarrassing it must be to be doing worse than chiropractors. No, don’t. Besides, it certainly doesn’t seem to bother naturopaths that it takes so long for the Naturopathic Medical Committee to do anything. That’s just the way they like it. Fortunately, the law that established the licensing of naturopaths in California expires at the end of 2017. Unfortunately, there is a new bill (SB 796) that was introduced by Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo) that would extend naturopathic licensure to 2022. It is a bill that needs to fail.

As I pointed out at the beginning of this post and in more previous posts than I can remember, naturopaths love to portray themselves as the equivalent of primary care doctors, able to take care of patients safely and effectively using “natural” treatments. It’s their main talking point when seeking licensure laws. Basically, organized naturopathy promotes naturopathic licensure as a PR strategy to win legitimacy for their pseudoscientific medicine and, not coincidentally, as a strategy for turf protection against “those” naturopaths they deem as less “qualified” (whatever that means in the case of naturopaths). Their key argument is that licensure will provide a level of regulation that will maintain a minimum level of competence and benefit the public. Yet, as the case of Jade Erick and the naturopath whose treatment killed her, Kim Kelly, demonstrates, those claims are simply not true. Also, contrary to these talking points, the committees and boards set up to enforce a standard of care can’t do that because there is no naturopathic standard of care and are painfully, unconscionably slow in what they do do. Basically, naturopathic licensure does nothing to protect the public. It does, however, legitimize quackery.

If Jade Erick’s death shines a light on the quackery that is naturopathy and the ineffectiveness of any sort of state licensure of the “profession,” although it will be cold comfort to her family, at least her death will have helped to prevent further cases like hers.