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U.S. District Court Issues Temporary Restraining Order for Silver Products Fraudulently Promoted as a Treatment for COVID-19
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By Lisa M. Campbell, Timothy D. Backstrom and Kelly N. Garson

On April 29, 2020, the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) to halt the sale of a fraudulent coronavirus (COVID-19) treatment.  The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced the court’s decision in an effort to halt the sale of silver products fraudulently claimed to prevent and cure COVID-19.

DOJ filed a civil complaint on April 27, 2020, against defendants Gordon Pedersen of Cedar Hills, Utah and his companies, My Doctor Suggests LLC and GP Silver LLC.  The complaint alleges that defendants began fraudulently promoting and selling various silver products in early 2020 with claims that the silver products would treat and prevent COVID-19.  Some of the alleged false and misleading claims made by defendants include that having silver particles in the bloodstream would block the virus from attaching to cells, that silver would “usher” the virus out of the body, and that silver would destroy all forms of viruses and protect against COVID-19. 

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a statement on the Utah case that “FDA will continue to help ensure those who place profits above the public health during the COVID-19 pandemic are stopped” and that FDA is “fully committed to working with the Department of Justice to take appropriate action against those jeopardizing the health of Americans by offering and distributing products with unproven claims to prevent or treat COVID-19.”

The enforcement action will be prosecuted in a coordinated action by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Utah and the DOJ Civil Division Consumer Protection Branch, with the assistance of the FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations and Office of the Chief Counsel.  In addition to the TRO, prosecutors obtained a separate court order temporarily freezing the defendants’ assets in order to preserve the court’s ability to grant effective final relief and to maintain the status quo.  A hearing on the DOJ’s request for a preliminary injunction is set for May 12, 2020.  If the case proceeds to trial, the government will need to prove its allegations to obtain a permanent injunction against the defendants. 

In another case, DOJ announced on April 17, 2020, that the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida issued a TRO to halt the sale of an unapproved and potentially dangerous industrial bleach product being marketed as a “miracle” treatment for COVID-19.  The FDA and the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) had issued a warning letter to the defendant, Genesis II Church of Health and Healing, on April 8, 2020.  According to the FDA, oral ingestion of the defendant's product called the Miracle Mineral Solution can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and severe dehydration.  The FDA and the FTC have issued nearly 40 separate warning letters in 2020 to companies selling unapproved or misbranded products with claims to prevent or to treat COVID-19.

Commentary

Particulate elemental silver and silver salts can be effective antimicrobial agents, and numerous products containing these active ingredients are currently registered for various antimicrobial uses.  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, along with other federal agencies, are working to ensure that necessary reviews and approvals of legitimate products intended to address COVID 19 are as expeditious as possible.  Products that need these regulatory reviews and approval, but that are marketed without them, are and will likely continue to be a current enforcement focus.