Drinkable Sunscreen “Doctor” ran Online “Pill Mill”

A couple of days of ago, the travel sections of the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail – or, as I prefer to think of them, Tweedledumb and Tweedledumber – both ran what were essentially advertorials for the same new product; “Harmonized H20 UV“, which is being marketed by a Colorado-based company, Osmosis Pur Medical Skincare, at £17 per 100ml bottle as a “drinkable sunscreen”.

Now I know what you’re thinking because I had exact same thought when I read the story – B-U-L-L-S-H-I-T – and I’m pleased to say that the good folks at the British Dermatological Association had much the same thoughts. So they fired off an email to the creator of this new “wonder” product, “Dr” Ben Johnson MD, containing a few pertinent questions and they even got a reply which, well, left them distinctly unimpressed. In fact, if you strip away all the bullshit from “Dr” Johnson’s response then what you’re left with the only and 100% truthful statement in his entire reply.

The formulas are 100% water.

Let me repeat that again, so there can be no doubt at all what “Dr” Johnson is saying.


You’ll also notice that he says “FORMULAS” using the plural because “Harmonized H20 UV” is only one of a range of identical products that Johnson is selling all of which you would have to assume from that statement are 100% WATER but which he nevertheless recommends for everything from the usual quack favourites like allergies and asthma to a number of serious conditions and disorders including Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, Arthritis, Dementia and Alzheimers.

Yes, there’s the obligatory Quack Miranda warning:

Disclaimer: 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.

Well of course it isn’t intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease – IT’S FUCKING WATER.



And there is where the newspapers and B.A.D. have left things for the moment but, as you may already have guessed, bloggers are made of sterner stuff and where the press leave off is where we start digging.

So, the first and most obvious thing to do when you encounter someone who claims to a have a medical degree but who is, in fact, selling small bottles of water at an extortionate price n the back of implied claims that this water will somehow improve the health of people with serious medical condition is check his credentials and make absolutely certain that “Dr” Ben Johnson MD is everything that he claims to be.

And to be fair, Benjamin Taylor Johnson MD, to give him his full name and title, does indeed have a genuine medical degree, which he obtained by graduating from the Creighton University School of Medicine in Omaha, Nebraska in 1994 and in 1995 he obtained a license to practice medicine in the State of Colorado where he went on to open a “Medi-Spa” in 1997 under the name the “Center for Body Enhancement”.

And then, three years later, his license to practise medicine lapsed and he was issued, as part of disciplinary proceeding instituted by the State Board of Medical Examiners, with an “Interim Cessation of Practice Notice“in which the key information is to be found in paragraph 9:

Respondent agrees not to engage in the practice of medicine as defined in § 12-36-106, C.R.S. The prohibition includes, but is not limited to, performing skin-care related medical procedures, such as laser skin resurfacing, chemical peels, Botox injections and microdermabrasion, collagen injections, administering, prescribing and dispensing prescription drugs, the supervision of any and all personnel associated with the operation of a skin-care facility and the operation of any skin care facility.

And just over six months after that “Dr” Johnson entered into an agreement with the State Board of Medical Examiners in which he formally surrendered his license to the practise medicine after admitting to unprofessional conduct – and I think it’s well worth reviewing how and why he wound up in that situation, starting with:

Patient 1 began seeing Respondent [Johnson] in October 1997 after receiving an unsolicited brochure from Respondent advertising “virtually painless” and “permanent” laser hair removal. Respondent’s brochure also featured a two-year guarantee on the laser hair removal services offered by Respondent

From October 1997 to February 1999 Patient 1 underwent laser half removal procedures at Respondent’s clinic. During the course of these procedures Patient 1 suffered burns to his cheek and chin areas

The laser half removal procedures which resulted in the injuries to Patient 1 were not “virtually painless” as Respondent had advertised In fact the laser hair removal procedures performed by Respondent’s staff caused Patient 1 extreme pin and required the administration of prescription pain medicati0n for its control. Respondent asserts that most of his patients found the procedure very tolerable and did not require the use of any pain medication.

The injuries incurred by Patient 1 during the course of laser hair removal procedures were directly attributable to Respondent’s failure to adequately supervise his staff in the performance of those procedures. Respondent asserts that all of his laser technicians were properly trained by himself or the laser manufacturer and the protocols used on Patient 1 were within the manufacturer’s guidelines.

Respondent’s advertised promise of permanent half removal backed with a two year guarantee was not honored The procedures performed at Respondent’s clinic did not result in  the permanent removal of Patient 1’s hair. Respondent also sought to withdraw the two year guarantee advertised in his brochure based upon his asserti0n that he was misled as to the laser hair removal machine’s capabilities by its manufacturer.

One thing that Johnson makes a point of mentioning in his response to the email from the British Association of Dermatologist is “We offer a money-back guarantee.“. I think that last paragraph tells use everything we need to about what that guarantee is likely to be worth.

So that’s patient 1 but there are two patients who’s experience found their way into Johnson’s rap sheet, so lets she what happened to patient 2:

On July 10, 1998 Patient 2 underwent a laser skin resurfacing procedure performed by Respondent

Respondent did not sterilize Patient 2′ s face prior to performing the laser resurfacing procedure nor did he perform the procedure in a sterile fashi0n

On July 13, 1998 Patient 2 presented at Respondent’s office complaining of increasing facial pain, swelling and itching. Respondent referred Patient 2 to the hospital.

At the hospital it was determined that Patient 2 had developed a beta hemolytic strep infect10n as a result of the procedure. In the Board’s consultant’s opinion Respondent’s failure to sterilize Patient 2′ s face prior to performing the procedure and failure to perform the procedure in a sterile fashion was a violation of the standard of care. Respondent asserts that laser resurfacing is not a sterile procedure and that Patient 2’s infection fell within the 0.5 to 1 percent of laser skin resurfacing cases that incur infections. Respondent further asserts that his preceptor training and current available literature supports his claim that extensive sterile technique is unwarranted.

So he skimped on the sterile procedures with the result that his patient contracted a nasty infection. Nice.

But not to worry because by this point he’d already got into the natural skin care products business – selling the usual concoctions containing stuff like Lavender and Tea Tree oil – by forming a company called “Cosmedix” and that company is still trading today even if it’s not clear whether Johnson retains any kind of association with it because in 2006 he founded “Osmosis” and moved into the “magic” water business.

Did I mention that he sells plain old water for £17 for a small bottle?

Anyway, that was that for his career in medicine because although “Dr” Ben Johnson does indeed have a genuine medical degree and appears to trade extensively on his medical background, what he doesn’t have is a license to practise medicine and he hasn’t held any such license for the last thirteen years.

But hang on, there’s more because while I was checking his medical background I ran across an old Usenet post on Google Groups which led me to a 1998 article by Carl T Hall, a science writer at the San Francisco Chronicle, in which he was investigating what was then the rapidly growing online trade in Viagra – and guess who turns up in the article?

Viagra and the Internet appear to be ushering in a new brand of high-tech drug abuse.

Authorities in California and Colorado said yesterday that they are beginning investigations of an online pharmacy operation, Performance Drugs Inc., which has been supplying Viagra and other medicines through the Web without traditional prescriptions.

The investigations were prompted in part by inquiries from a Chronicle reporter, who had ordered 10 tablets of Viagra, the wildly popular new anti-impotence pill, and 10 doses of “Stimula,” a purported “female erectile cream,” through the Web site.

Performance Drugs is just one of a growing crop of Web- based pill mills exploiting the phenomenal demand for Pfizer Inc.’s impotence remedy. A record 2.5 million Viagra prescriptions have been filled since the drug was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Calls to Performance Drugs were answered by Mike Takano, who identified himself as president of Alliance Marketing in Seattle, which he said has a partnership with Performance Drugs to handle the phone calls and other business generated by the Web site.

He said the drug company was founded by a Colorado physician, Dr. Benjamin Taylor Johnson. Johnson, 31, is a 1994 graduate of Creighton University in Nebraska who practices at a clinic in Denver called the Center for Body Enhancement. Records of the Colorado medical board indicate that Johnson has a valid license to practice in that state and has no record of disciplinary action against him.

Johnson’s name appeared on the drug packaging received by The Chronicle as the prescribing doctor. He did not return repeated telephone calls this week.

Physicians and regulators said it is bad practice, and possibly illegal, for a doctor to order prescription drugs for patients he has never met or examined. Nor does Johnson have a license to prescribe medicine to someone in San Francisco, according to a record check by the Medical Board of California.

“It is absolutely not legal unless there’s a good-faith examination by a doctor licensed to practice medicine in California,” said Doug Laue, deputy director of the state board.

Curiously, although Johnson’s online biography/CV mentions that he started out in the Medi-Spa business in 1997, it doesn’t mention the name of the clinic he was running at the time – Center for Body Enhancement – nor indeed is there any mention at all of his having founded a company called “Performance Drugs Inc.” which unethically supplied potentially dangerous prescription drugs to people that “Dr” Johnson had never met in his life.

Or maybe not so curiously because, of course, had any of the newspapers that ran stories about “Dr” Johnson’s £17 a bottle “magic” water bothered to do the basic background checking necessary to uncover any of this information – and let’s be clear, all we’re talking about here is running the guy’s name through a public licensing database and a five minute consultation with Detective Chief Inspector Google – then they might have thought twice about running his bullshit claim to have invented a drinkable sun screen.

The last word on this story I’ll leave to George Orwell…

“Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed: everything else is public relations.”

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