The product known as OSR #1 contains a chemical originally intended for clean-up of toxic waste at industrial sites. This story by the Chicago Tribune (which was republished by the Los Angeles Times) examines how, despite a total lack of any research on the product in humans, OSR #1 ended up being marketed as a "dietary supplement" for children with autism. The story does an especially good job of pointing out the regulatory gaps which can allow risky, poorly researched products to be sold as "cures" to desperate parents and caregivers. It’s an example of health journalism doing what it’s supposed to do, and doing it well.
Autism is a serious disorder which affects a growing number of children and their families and for which there are few good treatment options. This is a situation ripe for abuse by overzealous advocates and unscrupulous marketers of uNPRoven therapies. As Boyd Haley, president of the company that make the the OSR#1 supplement, puts it: "There are so many snake oil salesmen out there, it’s just incredible."
The story mentions that 30 capsules of OSR#1 cost $60. It would have been nice had the story also included information about the amount of active ingredient per capsule and the manufacturer’s recommended dosage. This would have allowed readers to make a better calculation as to the financial impact of treatment. This is critical information considering these costs will be borne out of pocket by anyone using OSR #1.
The story juxtaposes a light-hearted "success story" with information about the industrial uses of OSR #1 for removing toxic heavy metals from contaminated soil. This is a clever way of way of emphasizing that the use of this product is based entirely on anecdote. The story clearly states that there is no credible evidence supporting the efficacy of the product.
The harms of this product are impossible to quantify, given that it doesn’t seem to have been studied in humans or in animals. The story notes that other chelating drugs carry "significant risks" and "can strip the body of metals necessary for health." It would have been nice to see more specifics about what chelators can do, but the story satisfies the critierion.
The story states that medical searches turned up no papers about OSR#1, and that the company which makes the product provided no published studies about its use. The story rightly suggests that this total lack of evidence should be deeply troubling.
The story doesn’t exaggerate the prevalence or severity of autism, or of the potentially toxic compounds sometimes used to treat it.
The story quotes multiple experts on pharmacology and an FDA spokesperson. It also quotes from an interview with Boyd Haley, president of the company which makes OSR #1. It attempted to get a reaction from Kim Stagliano, an OSR #1 proponent, but this effort was not successful.
While the story mentions that there other are chelation drugs out there, it could have mentioned that there are educational strategies which can be helpful for children with autism and which have better evidence to support their use.
The story states that OSR#1 is, according to the manufacturer’s website, available only through dentists’ or doctors’ offices. It notes, however, that the Tribune was able to buy 30 capsules of the product directly from a compounding pharmacy listed on the site. We are impressed that the Tribune went to these lengths to establish the product’s availability.
The story provides a fairly detailed pedigree for OSR #1 and discusses its similarity to other chelation therapies used in the treatment of autism. It also gives credit to blogger Kathleen Seidel for being the first to raise concerns about OSR #1 in her blog, Neurodiversity.com
The story is well sourced and is not based on a press release.