Some consumers have reached out to the NBC4 I-Team, accusing a Southern California chiropractic company of preying on their declining health – charging them thousands of dollars for treatment they feel is bogus.
These patients say Optimal Health/Straw Chiropractic has drained their bank accounts and their hope.
One of those patients, Michelle Botts, says she learned about Optimal Health/Straw Chiropractic after getting an invitation in the mail for a free dinner and seminar about nerve damage.
Botts says she has suffered from neuropathy, a nerve disease that can be challenging to diagnose and treat, for years.
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"Numbness, tingling, burning. Sometimes your foot feels like it's a piece of stone, like it's dead."
She attended an Optimal Health/Straw Chiropractic event, and she says what she heard scared her.
"If it [neuropathy] was untreated, you could end up with an amputation," Botts said.
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So Botts agreed to pay Optimal Health/Straw Chiropractic — a chiropractic business run by Philip Straw — more than $10,000 dollars for treatment. This was a discounted price, according to the company.
Botts' treatment plan included 12 in-office visits and products to continue therapy at home including a foot massager, a light therapy pad, cream and a diet plan.
Botts says none of it helped.
"I think they're selling false hope," she said. "I wish that I had Googled because it was afterward that I saw stories and complaints and then I was feeling even more foolish."
Online complaints call Optimal Health/Straw Chiropractic a "total scam," accusing the company of using "scare tactics" and "playing on emotions of desperation." One reviewer advises patients to run away.
There's also a 2015 article written by Cal State LA Public Health professor William London. The article titled, "The Straw Protocol: A Chiropractor’s Aggressively Promoted Neuropathy Treatment," says Optimal Health and Straw relied on slick marketing and client testimonials.
"The more sensational the claim, the more demanding people should be in expecting providers to provide really strong evidence," London said.
"Testimonials are not convincing evidence," he added. "It's not science. It can be very selective."
The California State Board of Chiropractic Examiners cited and fined Straw in 2012 for his advertising which it found engaged in "misrepresentations, distortions, sensational or fabulous statements" when describing the "worst case clinical scenarios."
The I-Team reached out to Straw in Dec. 2018 about his business practices. A few weeks later we received an email saying, "Optimal Health Straw Chiropractic is in the process of closing it's doors."
While Optimal Health may no longer be in business, Straw is still marketing his treatments on TV. When we called the 800 number in the ad it connected to a place called Superior Health Centers.
Superior Health Centers' printed marketing material appears identical to that used by Optimal Health/Straw Chiropractic. So what does Superior Health Centers offer patients? We took a hidden camera to find out.
We attended one of those free dinners, just like Botts did. And we heard a similar presentation. The videos and graphics shown at the dinner reference Optimal Health/Straw Chiropractic.
The company wouldn't give details about its treatment at dinner so our producer went in for a consultation.
We couldn't bring our camera inside, but she described during the meeting how her fingertips turn white and feel numb when she's cold. After a 20 minute exam that included pricks to her hand and a reflex test, Superior Health employees diagnosed her with neuropathy. The cost for four weeks of treatment was quoted at $14,000.
But our producer's own doctor told her she does not have neuropathy and recommended she keep her hands warm in the cold.
The I-Team reached out to Straw and others at Superior Health for comment. The only response we received was a letter from an attorney, saying Superior Health "does not practice medicine or chiropractic" but "provides facility services to its professional tenants." And the lawyer says, "Philip Straw is neither practicing at the facility nor is he a professional tenant."
"Should your story claim that the treatment offered by the professional tenants of Super Health Centers 'does not work,' such a claim would be slanderous and would likely interfere with the doctor-patient relationship," the statement reads.
"While patients acknowledge that there is no guaranty that they will improve from the treatment, many patients report significant improvement."
But not Botts.
"To peddle false hope for a paycheck, I just think is wrong," she said.
After we started asking questions last December, Optimal Health/Straw Chiropractic reached out to Botts with a settlement she can't disclose to us.
London is urging the chiropractic board to investigate.
He says he has submitted reports to an investigator and he's waiting to hear of any progress in the investigation.
In the meantime, London warns buyers to beware. He says slick marketing can be easily mistaken for scientific publications, and bold claims need careful investigation.
The NBC4 I-Team also started asking the chiropractic board about Straw and Optimal Health's business practices in the fall of 2018. We've followed up again, but the board said it can't confirm or deny if any investigation is underway. They did say, however, that the board investigates every complaint it receives.
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If you would like to call the I-Team's Investigative Tip Line, you may do so here: 818-520-TIPS (8477)