By: Chris Warren.
The traveling patent medicine peddler who would go from town to town selling “miracle cure” potions and pills that presumably would work on just about any malady was a stock character in old western movies. Today, there is a modern version of the patent medicine scam known as the herbal and medical supplements industry.
In the movies, the sales pitch would be boosted by a paid shill in the crowd who would testify that he used the product and it cured everything that was wrong with him, from baldness to ingrown toenails. The end of the movie subplot was always the same: The concoctions were medically worthless if not outright dangerous, but by time anyone figured it out the quack doctor had long folded up his show and skipped town with everyone’s money.
These dramas have a basis in truth. In times past there really were salesmen tramping from town to town hawking fake medicine and draining wallets as they went. Today’s version of the patent medicine flimflam does not involve a smooth talking transient in a horse drawn wagon. Thanks to modern communications, they don’t have to leave the house or even be in the USA to rip people off with their medical supplements.
It’s impossible to avoid the hustlers of medical supplements because they are all over cable television and the internet. Pills that “melt fat”. Pills that bulk up muscle. Pills that make you more mentally alert. Pills that unclog your arteries. Pills to soothe your aching joints. And of course, for the gentlemen, pills that make your guy parts much more useful. Whatever your problem is, someone has a remedy for it. There are even pills for problems you don’t know you have. And we can’t overlook creams and ointments to melt fat (again!), remove wrinkles, and keep your joints from hurting (again!).
In addition to medical supplements is an equally robust industry selling devices that can help you with…do we really need to run down the list again? Perhaps the most ubiquitous device on TV in the USA is the Willow Curve. The cheesy gizmo looks like a prop from a science fiction movie and the manufacturer makes a lot of far-out claims about what this product will do; independent research shows thats it’s basically a $599 heating pad with some pretty blinking lights on it.
The whole point of this monologue is to observe that in a contemporary age when everyone is supposed to be sophisticated enough to know better, the quack medicine shows are alive and more popular than any 19th century roadside barker could possibly conceive. The bogus goods have been rebranded as “medical supplements” and come with the small print caveat “These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.” But the basic schtick is the same: Make amazing promises, collect the cash. And millions of people spend billions of dollars falling for it.
As much as I disrespect the scammers and their medical supplements, I do not think they should be run out of business. As long as the product is not obviously toxic, leave them alone and let them keep raking in the cash. If consumers give in to their vanity, or lack of due diligence, or sincerely held faith that any of that crap actually works in spite of an ocean of legitimate science that indicates otherwise, then they are complicit in the draining of their wallets and should accept whatever happens afterward.
Maybe the uncomplicated folk portrayed in the the old movies are not as fictional as we’d like to think. Like so many other things in this world, sensible judgement has difficulty standing firm against the allure of fast and easy solutions. Going by the number of medical supplements being pushed in the media, the descendants of the patent medicine swindlers of yesteryear are proudly carrying on their forefathers’ profession and have no trouble at all finding dupes willing to open their wallets.