Md. regent said to have used controversial therapy for autism

John Young, a Geier partner, resigned after medical license suspended

March 05, 2013|By Carrie Wells, The Baltimore Sun

Two years after a Maryland doctor lost his medical license for using a controversial treatment for autistic patients, the state Board of Physicians has suspended his business partner for allegedly writing the same dangerous prescription for several patients.

The board suspended John L. Young's license to practice medicine in the state Feb. 13. On Feb. 21, Young resigned from his post on the University System of Maryland's Board of Regents, citing a desire to "devote more time to other activities." The resignation was announced Feb. 25.

Chancellor William E. Kirwan said Tuesday that the board was "surprised and saddened" by the allegations.

Young, 61, could not be reached for comment.

Young's business partner, Mark Geier, became a nationally known physician for his use of the hormone suppressor Lupron and chelation therapy, which removes heavy metals from the body, to treat autistic children. He gained a devoted following among some parents of children with severe autism who felt other treatments did not work. But such treatments have been dismissed by medical experts as junk science.

In the order suspending Young's license, the Board of Physicians concluded that he wrote Lupron prescriptions for nine of Geier's patients, who ranged in age from 6 to 17 and all lived outside Maryland. The board also said that Young, who sometimes used Skype to speak with patients, broke restrictions against prescribing medicine for people who live outside the state.

Young's actions "constitute a substantial likelihood of risk of serious harm to the public health, welfare and safety," the board wrote in the suspension order. The board did not say that Young used chelation therapy.

According to the order, Geier and Young had a medical practice together from 1980 to April 2011. Geier headed Genetic Consultants of Maryland, a company that had offices in Rockville and Owings Mills.

The scientific community has rejected Lupron as a treatment for autism. It is approved for treating prostate cancer and ovarian fibroids, and for chemical castration of sex offenders. Chelation therapy can have significant side effects if used improperly, including kidney damage and cardiac arrhythmia.

"There is no reason why any child with autism should be receiving those drugs," said Dr. Neal A. Halsey, director of Johns Hopkins' Institute for Vaccine Safety. "Do you really want people giving those drugs to your children when they have no benefit?"

Geier has defended his use of Lupron, saying in a 2011 letter published by The Baltimore Sun that "countless" parents told him their lives had been transformed by the treatments.

The Board of Physicians reached its conclusion by reviewing records of prescriptions that Young had written and the medical files of the patients, and by interviewing Young. It is unclear whether any of the children were harmed by the treatment.

Young, a Potomac resident, had been a member of the University System of Maryland Board of Regents since 2009. The 17-member group of gubernatorial appointees sets policy for the state university system. He served on the committees that dealt with education policy and student life, as well as economic development.

Kirwan said Young emailed him the Board of Physicians decision about the time he announced his resignation.

"I knew him quite well," Kirwan said. "He was a very dependable and reliable board member. I was most surprised and saddened that there was this difficulty. The board members feel the same way."

Gov. Martin O'Malley's spokeswoman, Raquel Guillory, declined to comment on the Board of Physicians' findings and said a search for Young's successor is under way.

O'Malley appointed Geier's son, David, to a 26-member Commission on Autism in 2009. David Geier, who was not a doctor and had only a bachelor's degree, was removed from the panel in 2011 after the Board of Physicians found that he was practicing medicine without a license and fined him $10,000. He denied the allegation and said his role at his father's clinic was largely administrative, accusing the Board of Physicians of unfairly targeting his family.

Geier believed that autism was the result of high levels of mercury from vaccinations and that too much testosterone worsens the symptoms, hence the use of both Lupron and chelation therapy. Geier diagnosed the children with early-onset puberty, usually a rare diagnosis, and used Lupron to control their hormone development.

Medical experts call what was dubbed the "Lupron protocol" a junk science that can be dangerous for children because it can disrupt their sexual growth.

The Board of Physicians said Geier "profited greatly from the minimal efforts he made for these patients."

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