PORT ANGELES — Former naturopathic physician Rick Marschall has pleaded guilty to a federal charge of introducing misbranded drugs into interstate commerce.
Between February 2014 and February 2017, Marschall prescribed human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) to about 60 people for weight loss, according to information from the plea agreement filed in U.S. District Court in Tacoma on Thursday.
Marschall has operated Natural Healing Clinic on South Barr Road near Port Angeles for 31 years — the last four without a license.
HCG is a hormone produced by the placenta during pregnancy, and it’s illegal to sell or prescribe as a weight-loss drug. The Food and Drug Administration has approved HCG to treat infertility — its most common use — but not weight loss, according to the plea agreement.
HCG products typically require a strict 500-calorie a day diet in tandem with the hormone. Reported side effects of the HCG diet include fatigue, irritability, restlessness, depression, fluid buildup, swelling of the breasts in boys and men and blood clotting, according to the Mayo Clinic.
A restrictive HCG diet can also cause an irregular heartbeat, gallstone formation and an imbalance of electrolytes that prevents muscles and nerves from functioning properly, according to the FDA. Contrary to Marschall’s medical advice, HCG does not aid in weight loss, the agreement said, citing the FDA.
Marschall faces an imprisonment sentence of no less than 60 days and no more than six months, according to the plea agreement.
Statutory penalties for introducing misbranding drugs into interstate commerce include a maximum imprisonment of up to three years, a fine of up to $250,000, a period of supervision following release from prison of up to one year and a mandatory special assessment of $100.
Marschall declined to comment when called at his clinic Friday.
“I don’t take calls like this,” he said, and hung up the phone.
Information from the plea agreement says:
In 2016, an undercover FDA agent communicated with Marschall by phone and email about the use of HCG for weight loss. Marschall never met with the agent in person. He did, however, offer to sell the agent a one-month supply of HCG for weight loss for $550.
On October 28, 2016, Marschall mailed or caused to be mailed a package to the agent with injectable HCG from Port Angeles to Portland, Ore. Marschall ordered the HCG from a compounding pharmacy in Florida.
He continued to sell HCG to individuals for weight loss through 2017 without informing his patients he did not possess an active and valid naturopathic license, according to the plea agreement.
2011 plea agreement
On May 9, 2011, Marschall pleaded guilty to the same charge: distributing misbranded HCG.
Similarly, his offenses included knowingly introducing misbranded drugs into interstate commerce — and additionally, doing so with the intent to deceive, according to the plea agreement.
Marschall’s history of prescribing HCG for weight loss dates back at least eight years.
Between 2009 and 2011, the FDA seized three packages of HCG, two by mail and one by a trash search outside the Natural Healing Clinic.
In February 2009, the FDA seized a package addressed to his practice that contained multiple boxes of HCG manufactured in China and distributed by a company in India, according to the 2011 plea agreement.
When the FDA notified Marschall, he replied by sending an email stating he was a licensed endocrinologist and used HCG to treat infertile patients, according to the 2011 plea agreement.
He was not a licensed endocrinologist, and in 2011 Marschall admitted he never treated any patients for infertility with HCG, the 2011 agreement said.
FDA interviews with former patients revealed many had never met Marschall in person, but received consultations over the phone, according to the 2011 plea agreement.
In March 2010, the FDA executed a federal search warrant of the clinic and seized numerous patient records. Marschall agreed to be interviewed during the search, according to the 2011 agreement.
He admitted he had purchased HCG from a Canadian website and knew the drugs came from India, the agreement said.
In August 2010, Marschall told the FDA he was still treating patients over the phone, according to the court record. He also admitted to lying to an inspector in 2009; he attempted to convince her to release a package of HCG, according to the 2011 plea agreement.
“I was distracting her,” he was quoted as saying. “I was diverting her.”
As of Saturday, the home page of Marschall’s website, www.drmarschall.com, read: “After 31 years I have retired from prescriptive practice. I am no longer licensed to practice medicine or naturopathic medicine in the State of Washington and I am not licensed to prescribe prescription drugs in the State of Washington or plan to do so anywhere else.”
Marschall has not been licensed since 2013, according to the plea agreement, which said that he continued to pose as a licensed naturopathic physician up until now.
The state Department of Health suspended Marschall’s license to practice naturopathy in November 2013 and issued a cease-and-desist order against him in September 2015 after he continued to write prescriptions, according to DOH records.
Under the 2013 order, he was fined $10,000 and his license was suspended for at least one year.
His application for reinstatement of his license was denied in October 2015 after it was determined that he had continued his practice without a valid license, according to DOH records.
The FDA urges those who have consumed homeopathic HCG for weight loss to stop using it, throw it away and stop following its dieting instructions, according to the FDA’s 2011 consumer update.
To report the harmful effects of HCG to the FDA, call 800-332-1088 or use FDA’s MedWatch program to submit a problem online. The FDA also recommends informing your personal physician.
Reporter Sarah Sharp can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56650, or at [email protected].