CRANSTON, R.I. (WPRI) — The sudden outcry over millions in taxpayer dollars directed to a Cranston chiropractor by Rhode Island House Democratic leadership is shining a spotlight on the promises he makes to patients.
The science behind the state-funded, unsanctioned neurotherapy — dubbed Cortical Integrative Therapy, or CIT — is disputed, although it’s been successfully applied to patients including children for nearly two decades. The treatment is only offered by a single Cranston chiropractor named Victor Pedro, whose Park Avenue office is down the street from House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello’s law offices.
Mattiello and some of his colleagues are supporters of the controversial treatment, and have steered at least $1.9 million in state money to Pedro’s programs over the last 15 years. But his work has been viewed much more skeptically by state and federal health officials.
“The proposed treatment is neither evidence-based nor focused on a well-defined disease entity or conditions,” concluded the R.I. Medicaid Medical Care Advisory Committee, a panel of experts who advise state leaders on health policy, in a 2015 advisory letter.
Likewise, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Director Seema Verma wrote in a 2017 letter to R.I. Medicaid Director Patrick Tigue that her agency would not reimburse costs for the treatment.
“The state has not provided scientific evidence verifying the efficacy of CIT, nor any indication that CIT was subject to such evaluation,” she wrote. A state spokesperson said it is the only time Verma’s agency has denied a request to cover additional Medicaid services since 2014.
And on Thursday, a group of 24 local doctors released an open letter expressing their “grave concerns” about state funding for Pedro’s work.
On his website, Pedro describes CIT as a treatment for brain-based disorders, traumatic brain injuries and chronic pain.
In technical terms, CIT involves stimulating the outer layer of the brain with various sensory treatments, such as visuals and sounds. Practically, it appears much simpler.
In videos on Pedro’s website, one patient puts on what looks to be goggles with cameras, which can evaluate the size of her pupils. The patient is then hooked up to an EKG machine and positioned in front of a wall with flashing images.
The videos also show the patient clapping her hands in rhythm.
Pedro’s website shares glowing reviews from people listed as patients, who detail how CIT has worked for them where more traditional medicine has failed.
One of the patients highlighted on his website is pop star Paula Abdul.
In a 2013 article on the website PainPathways Magazine shared by Pedro, Abdul writes, “The fact of the matter is I’ve had a long journey. I’ve seen so many doctors, and had so many surgeries and procedures. My journey would’ve been a lot shorter if I had known about Victor Pedro, DC, and Cortical Integrative Therapy sooner.”
In a case study Pedro conducted in the early 2000s while at the University of Bridgeport, published on his website, he detailed how CIT helped provide an alternative to the popularity of prescribing drugs to treat patients with ADHD.
A 20-year-old man, described in the case study as having ADHD and depression, was enrolled in a 12-week CIT program. Pedro concluded that the patient made “considerable gains in his ability to persevere in academic pursuits,” according to the study.
“He also improved considerably according to demeanor … and was less depressed,” Pedro wrote, adding that the young man even stopped taking antidepressants.
The University of Bridgeport has not responded to a Target 12 inquiry about Pedro’s time there.
Pedro first received state funding in 2004, when then-Rep. Frank Montanaro Jr. sponsored the first in a series of taxpayer grants for CIT through the Department of Education that eventually totaled nearly $450,000. Pedro used the money to conduct a separate pilot program involving children with ADD and ADHD.
The results were detailed in a report by James Paicopolos, listed in the report as a psychologist with the Lawrence Public Schools in Massachusetts. Target 12 has reached out to the district to confirm his position.
Paicopolos’s report, posted on Pedro’s website, included treatment for 10 children and had an explicit goal of demonstrating CIT could provide “potential savings to Rhode Island taxpayers by utilizing Cortical Integrative Therapy as a primary care modality for attentional disorders.”
Paicopolos described the effort as largely successful, concluding all the participants showed improvement and medication was eliminated for five of them. The report argued the treatment could be a boon for Rhode Island taxpayers.
“Based on the results of this pilot, we believe that the savings that would accrue to both parents and school systems in Rhode Island is incalculable if the program is implemented on a larger scale,” the report said.
While the Paicopolos report is silent on where the study was conducted, minutes from a June 7, 2005, meeting of the Northern Rhode Island Collaborative show Lt. Gov. Dan McKee — then between two stints as Cumberland mayor — asked to enter into an agreement with Pedro to work with Cumberland students.
McKee on Wednesday stood by the treatment.
“Seeing the value in the work and expertise, the liuetnant governor felt Dr. Pedro could play a role in youth development in Cumberland, particularly in finding new ways to support students struggling with certain learning disabilities,” McKee spokesperson Andrea Palagi told Target 12.
Those two case studies were among eight listed on Pedro’s website. Others examined CIT as treatment for apraxia of speech, cortical malformation and defective brain development.
Eli Sherman (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Target 12 investigative reporter for WPRI 12. Follow him on Twitter
Ted Nesi and Tim White contributed to this report.