The Truehope / EM Power Story
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Around 1995, Tony Stephan, an Alberta based career businessman fighting a running battle with Revenue Canada over unpaid taxes, and pig feed salesman David Hardy noted that a vitamin mixture fed to pigs appeared to be effective in curbing “ear and tail biting syndrome.”
While there was, and remains, no scientific evidence for such an effect in pigs apart from the taste of the mixture, Stephan felt he should try the product on his family, as a few family members had different issues with mental illness.
According to Stephan, at least two members of his family were “cured” of serious mental illness once fed with a regimen similar to that fed to the pigs. There have clearly been positive effects on at least some members of the Stephan family – exactly how much of this is attributable to the vitamin mixture, later known as EM Power, and other factors remains debatable. But the improvement in at least one family member after taking the product is obvious.
Stephan felt this “treatment” might have possibilities and incorporated a business in May of 1996 called “The Synergy Group of Canada Inc.” Hardy subsequently joined the business, later known as “Truehope Nutritional Support Ltd.”, or commonly known as “Truehope”.
Stephan and Hardy tried to engage the scientific community in their “discovery.” While most researchers stayed away, child psychologist Bonnie Kaplan did some preliminary research with bipolar disorder using the newly developed product now known as EM Power.
However, Health Canada did not approve of this research, and detailed specific scientific problems in a three-page letter, clearly disputing any scientific rationale for Truehope’s claims.
The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services rejected similar research proposals by Kaplan’s colleagues at the University of Utah “because the risks to the subjects outweighed the benefits to the subjects or society.”
Truehope’s web page cites other “research” that is simply the anecdotal observations of two psychiatrists, not scientific “proof.” While a few preliminary papers on EM Power have been published, the scientific research on EM Power has consistently been a subject of vigorous scientific criticism.
Despite the lack of regulatory approval from Health Canada, and with virtually no scientific proof, the EM Power began to be marketed specifically being targeted to the mentally ill community by Truehope, first through “town hall” meetings.
Later, the product was marked via a plush website, and a carefully scripted call center reached by an 800 number. The call center was initially in Lethbridge, then relocated in Raymond, Alberta.
The call center has always been staffed by laypeople; many are apparently customers who have “recovered” from their own mental illnesses. These so called “Truehope Assistants” routinely sell product, while at times providing medical advice, including recommending that some clients cease taking prescribed medicines without consulting a physician.
Despite all these scientific concerns and concerns of some mental illness support groups, (most notably the Schizophrenia Society of Ontario, but others as well), Truehope has developed a loyal following of customers – some who reported themselves as satisfied and cured victims of mental illness.
This group has routinely mobilized itself very successfully over the years in portraying the Truehope adventure as having a widespread effect on the mentally ill as a miracle cure.
The group consists of very strong members, many of them rural family orientated southern Alberta people, who often convey that any opposition to Truehope is simply as being due to naďve government officials who are described as “bureaucratic bullies”, and /or activists who the supporters believe are sympathetic to the pharmaceutical drug industry.
They are a very sincere, and well-intended group even though one can certainly argue the group tends to lack a good understanding of the scientific process.
There have been a few adverse reactions reported to Truehope. In Ottawa, one man became unstable when advised to discontinue his prescribed medications, and he was charged criminally.
Two people were hospitalized during Dr. Kaplan’s initial bipolar disorder study. At least three members of the Calgary Organization For Bipolar Affective Disorders who were encouraged to use the product were subsequently hospitalized.
But, for the most part, the concern with Truehope, has consistently been with the medical advice given out by the so-called Truehope Assistants, (people who advise callers to the Truehope call center), and the subsequent recommendation that some clients forgo prescription drug therapy in favor of EM Power.
Along with the less than credible science initially put forward by Truehope, it was the attitude and style of business that sent off alarm bells to many people in the science and mental health community. Three outspoken activists, Marvin Ross, Dr. Terry Polevoy and Ron Reinhold eventually would become the main spokesmen of concern with Truehope.
Initially the proprietors Truehope portrayed themselves in a David and Goliath manner, in that they were the little guys coming up with an effective cure for mental illness, and that any opposition to them ultimately had to be fueled by the ever so terrible pharmaceutical drug companies.
Truehope officials initially would become very defensive whenever anybody so much as questioned their therapy’s “concept,” or the proprietors’ motivations. In the early part of 2001 to 2003 Truehope routinely threatened lawsuits against unfavorable media, and other activists who were not favorable to their business style.
In 2003, the promotion was really challenged by the authorities and the activists. The three activists published a controversial and provocative book, known as “Pig Pills Inc”.
While the book was criticized for its sarcasm in places, the book did provide explicit details of how the Truehope operation came about, and certainly raised many more questions about the less than professional research on EM Power.
In May of 2003, after years of Truehope ignoring warning letters, Health Canada finally took some action by seizing imports of EM Power at Canada Customs entry points. Shortly thereafter, Truehope launched a lawsuit against Health Canada (that is still on the books technically as of February 2007, but appears to have gone nowhere).
A furious public relations battle then ensued with female supporters of Truehope, (they called themselves the “Red Umbrellas”), going to Ottawa to protest Health Canada actions. A few right wing politicians pledged their support of the promotion, most notably Vancouver Island chiropractor Dr. James Lunney. Lunney spearheaded an Edmonton based rally in July 2003 against the Health Minister of the day, Anne MacLellan.
Health Canada released warnings about EM Power, and even provided a toll free number for consumers to pose questions about EM Power.
Then on July 15, 2003, a team of Health Canada inspectors and the Raymond RCMP raided Truehope. Over the next 17 hours, the team armed with search warrants went through documentation and records at the Raymond call centre.
Initially, there were six charges laid on Truehope. The Company challenged the validity of search warrants in court, but this challenge was denied.
After ages of delays, the Company finally went on trial with only one charge on the table. In March 2006, Health Canada tried to prosecute Truehope based on the fact that Truehope was selling a product, which did not have the Drug Identification Number, DIN, which signifies the product is an approved product.
Truehope never denied they were selling the product; instead they insisted they had to sell the product out of necessity, because various customers of Truehope were reporting that they were improving from cases of mental illness. In a rather strange development, Health Canada never challenged the necessity to sell argument.
Provincial Court Judge Meagher ruled that Truehope had demonstrated that there was a necessity to sell the product [as there was no challenge to this argument]. Therefore, the Company was acquitted on the charge.
Since that time, the concern continues with the lay people, the “Truehope Assistants”, providing the degree of medical advice to customers of Truehope.
In February of 2007 Health Canada has reported that it has received reports of nine adverse reactions involving people who have been using EM Power.
In April 2007 a CBC story reported an Arizona women who was counselled to go off her prescription drugs, and then subsequently lost her career, and now is on more drugs than ever.
There may be a few more chapters to the Truehope story yet, but at this point, we can say that while we are open-minded to any treatment that helps the mentally ill, society must be guided by legitimate “peer reviewed” science in an area that involves such a vulnerable group of people.
The whole problem with Truehope has been a real lack of hard science, and too much “faith” and or “fanaticism”.
Finally, we remain absolute in our belief that mental illness must be diagnosed and treated by qualified health professionals. We believe it is not appropriate for lay people, some of them recovered mentally ill people themselves, to be diagnosing and treating other mentally ill people.
We are all for support of the mentally ill by the recovered/treated mentally ill, but this level of support clearly has limits and should not involve counselling ill people to go off medications, and undergo other medical interventions.
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June 15, 2003
Health Canada Issues Public Warning on EM Power
Health Canada appears to be going after EM Power agressively now...
June 06, 2003
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True Hope, the vitamin scam directed to the mentally ill, now is suing Health Canada...
June 01, 2003
Pig Pills Inc. Now Available For Sale
The controversial, provocative, but fact based story of the True Hope fraud is now available...
April 08, 2003
True Hope or True Hype? Read Pig Pills Inc. For The Truth!
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March 25, 2003
Concerns Over Recommendations To Stop Psych Therapy
Support groups, and some doctors have voiced concerns about a company that has been alleged to be recommending that psychiatric patients with severe disorders replace their medications with vitamin supplements…
May 01, 2001
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