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RCMP shuts down supplement firm
David Heyman Sound Off
Calgary Herald

RCMP officers and Health Canada investigators raided the offices of a Raymond-based health product company, alleging it has been selling a nutritional supplement to the mentally ill without government approval.

About a dozen armed officers surprised employees of Truehope Nutritional Support Ltd. at 10:15 a.m. Tuesday when they swept in and demanded everyone in the call centre stop working and back away from their computers. Mounties from Calgary, Ottawa and Montreal then began downloading information from hard drives and rifling through filing cabinets.

Officers also backed up vans to the building's doors and prepared to take stacks of documents away.

The owners of the company say they are outraged at the action, but not surprised, accusing Health Canada of bearing a long-held vendetta against them.

"We have nothing to hide," said David Hardy, who with Tony Stephan started Truehope about seven years ago in Raymond, about 30 kilometres southeast of Lethbridge.

Stephan said he's worried his 3,000 customers will suddenly have to go without the nutritional supplement Empowerplus, a combination of 36 vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants. Each of those substances is sold individually on shelves in North America without a problem, he added. He's also worried Health Canada will use the database information to phone all their customers and tell them not to use the nutritional supplement.

Health Canada, however, said Truehope and its related company, The Synergy Group of Canada, have been making health claims about Empowerplus. Under Canadian law, making those claims classifies the supplement as a drug and therefore requires solid scientific proof of its effectiveness before it can be legally sold.

The government claims it has told Truehope and Synergy to provide a new drug submission but they have never done so. That has led to the accusations they have been promoting and selling Empowerplus illegally.

"Our main concern deals with the unproven health claims being made about Empowerplus and the recommendation that patients decrease the dose of, or eliminate altogether, medications prescribed by their doctors," said Health Canada in a news release Tuesday.

Hardy and Stephan went into business seven years ago after, they say, children in both their families, along with Stephan's wife, were diagnosed with mental illnesses. Stephan said his wife committed suicide after years of suffering from bipolar disorder, spurring him to look for a cure to protect his kids. Around that time he met Hardy, a former animal feed expert. Together, they came up with the idea to give their loved ones pills based on a nutritional supplement Hardy had given to calm agitated pigs.

The product reportedly worked well and they came up with a version for humans which they have called Empowerplus, a combination of 36 minerals, vitamins, and anti-oxidants. The men claim they now have thousands of satisfied customers, many of whom have dropped their conventional medications and are living normal lives. Health Canada, however, believes those using Empowerplus are putting their health at risk and it issued a health advisory June 6 this year asking Canadians not to use it.

In addition to many dedicated customers, Stephan and Hardy have some high-profile allies. Nanaimo-Alberni MP James Lunney blasted the government for using what he called bureaucratic interference to keep a product away from people who want it.

"It's outrageous Health Canada continues this ruse," he said, criticizing the government's rules that designate Empowerplus as a drug. "It betrays the public trust."

Meanwhile, opponents of Empowerplus applauded Health Canada's actions.

"I'm absolutely ecstatic," said Marvin Ross, the head of the Hamilton chapter of the Ontario Schizophrenia Society and co-author of the book Pig Pills, which attacks Empowerplus as a false remedy. "It's reprehensible to be encouraging very ill people to drop their medication in favour of 36 vitamins and minerals."

There is some preliminary scientific evidence the pills work. 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 similar study at the University of Calgary by Bonnie Kaplan found similar results.

 Copyright 2003 Calgary Herald

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