NSW Health authorities have launched an investigation into a national chain of "hydration" clinics after a Sydney woman was hospitalised following an intravenous vitamin "infusion" sold as a miracle hangover cure.
The iv.me Hydration Clinics advertise the "innovative concept" of injecting "hydration" fluids directly into people's veins via a drip. The commercialised medical procedure has emerged as the latest health craze for drinkers and rundown professionals.
The first hangover clinic in Sydney
In December 2015, Australia's first intravenous drip hydration clinic opened its doors, claiming a "revolutionary" way to beat the dreaded hangover.
But Fairfax Media can reveal that three weeks after it opened, iv.me's Sydney-based clinic has been closed by NSW Health as it investigates how a customer ended up in the emergency ward of St Vincent's Hospital.
A NSW Health spokesman confirmed that on February 16, the department was informed of a "patient suffering fever, abdominal pains and low blood pressure".
He added it was "fully investigating the likely cause of the illness" adding "discussions" were under way with "all involved with the clinic".
Last week, NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner joined the growing list of experts who have aired concerns about the infusion fad.
"The claimed health and medical benefits of hydration clinics remain dubious," said Ms Skinner who added it was "important" commercial IV products be "manufactured under strict standards" and suppliers adhere to "strict" requirements surrounding "hygiene and infection control".
In a statement, iv.me director and pharmacist Shadi Kazeme pointed to an unidentified manufacturer of an ingredient that she said was utilised in the infusions administered to customers. "As a precaution, iv.me has changed supplier of this ingredient," she said.
Of the investigation, she said: "At this stage, there is no outcome and hence no conclusion," adding her Melbourne clinic remained open and her Sydney service would resume "in the future".
In December last year, Sydney's first IV hydration "Hangover Clinic" - which is not connected to iv.me - opened its doors. As the name suggests, the business claims to wash away all traces of alcohol related pain with an IV treatment package that pumps saline, sodium, minerals, vitamins, oxygen and anti-nausea medication through the blood.
Co-founder of that business, Max Petro, deflected criticism at the time by stating: "We don't serve alcohol. We are not a pub. We encourage binge drinking as much as hospitals encourage people to get sick."
After launching her own "flagship" clinic in Melbourne's South Yarra last October, Ms Kazeme's business became the second player in Sydney on January 27, from a medial centre in College Street, Darlinghurst.
According to the iv.me website, her personally sourced range of infusions make clients "look great, feel great" and enable them to "dive head first" into their busy lives. Costing as much as $340, they also allegedly "recover, cleanse and detoxify", support the immune system, help regulate "sleeping patterns", enhance energy levels and "fat burning". They are "anti-ageing" and even "useful" for depression. Thanks to endorsements from models, socialites and celebrities including Home and Away star Pia Miller - who recently shared an image of herself on Instagram using an IV drip at the clinic - iv.me has also received a major "boost" in the publicity stakes.
However, last month, it's roll call of health claims and related marketing became the subject of a formal complaint to the Pharmacy Board of Australia by leading doctor, Ken Harvey, who alleged that Ms Kazeme had broken the law by advertising claims that were likely to be false, misleading or deceptive, or create an unreasonable expectation of benefit.
He also pointed out that nowhere on her website does she warn customers about possible health risks that can arise from too many vitamins and other substances contained in the fluids.
A fortnight after Associate Professor Harvey lodged that complaint - one of iv.me's clients fell ill after an IV infusion at the Darlinghust clinic. NSW Health confirmed it "immediately" asked the centre to "cease operations" until an investigation could determine the "likely cause".
When Fairfax Media visited the premises on Friday, a medical receptionist stated the iv.me clinic had been "shut down" and was "unlikely" to be returning to the same building.
While he did not wish to comment on any specific incidents, National AMA vice-president Stephen Parnis has accused those behind the IV infusion trend of "bringing the medical profession into disrepute".
"You have a duty to act with expertise," he said. "Ethically and morally, you need to do the right thing at the exclusion of any other interest, commercial or otherwise. And ... you need to offer things that are effective. There is no evidence of benefit here whatsoever."
Mr Petro was keen to distance his Hangover Clinic business from the chain run by Ms Kazeme, stating: "We ensure that we only use the same suppliers who supply NSW hospitals and our IV treatments are always administered by qualified doctors - not pharmacists," he said.
A spokeswoman for the Pharmacy Board of Australia said that for legal reasons, it could not comment on individual practitioners or complaints made about them.
Ms Kazeme, meanwhile, said she fulfils her obligations to customers: "All potential risks are clearly outlined to clients prior to receiving their treatment in their consent forms, which they must sign," she said.
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