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It's about time that FDA took action against Lap-Band billboards

December 14, 2011|Michael Hiltzik

When the Los Angeles County coroner blamed the death of Tamara Walter, a Lap-Band patient, at least partially on the "suboptimal" anesthesiology care she had received at a clinic affiliated with 1-800-GET-THIN, the clinic smeared the coroner's anesthesiology expert, accusing her in a letter to the coroner of a conflict of interest because she had once worked at UCLA, which they said "competes directly" with the Lap-Band clinic. (To his credit, the medical examiner, Dr. Lakshmanan Sathyavagiswaran, essentially told them to go jump in the lake. The consultant's work, he responded, was "both thorough and accurate.")

And they've sued me and my colleagues at The Times for reporting about them. So far, three of these lawsuits against us have been thrown out of court by state and federal judges. The plaintiffs have appealed the dismissals and filed more suits against us and commenters on our website.

The public record is brimming with material — including complaints of wrongful death, negligence and irregularities in billing practices — that could fall well within the jurisdiction of several state regulatory agencies. It may be that the FDA has fired the first shot in what could be a barrage. Certainly the message communicated by the FDA warning letters is of paramount importance to Southland motorists: When you pass a billboard advertising 1-800-GET-THIN, keep your eyes on the road.

Michael Hiltzik's column appears Sundays and Wednesdays. His latest book is "The New Deal: A Modern History." Reach him at mhiltzik@latimes.com and read past columns at latimes.com/hiltzik,.

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