FDA Steps Up Campaign Against Tainted Dietary Supplements

The FDA has stepped up its campaign against tainted and otherwise dangerous dietary supplements that so far has identified 300 fraudulent products.

These products, typically promoted as “safe” supplements for weight loss, sexual enhancement and bodybuilding, are deceptively labeled or contain hidden or deceptively labeled ingredients that can cause a variety of serious conditions, including stroke, liver injury, kidney failure, heart palpitations and death.

The illegal ingredients include the active ingredients in FDA-approved drugs, sometimes prescription drugs, or other compounds, such as synthetic steroids, that do not qualify as dietary supplement ingredients.

While dietary supplements typically do not require FDA approval, the marketing companies are responsible for ensuring both the safety of their products and that their marketing claims are true. And while it is easier for a product to come to market than for the FDA to take it off the market, the situation with tainted products is serious and commonplace enough for the FDA to step up enforcement activities.

The FDA started this enhanced program in December 2010. In addition to consumer alerts and press announcements about these products to warn consumers, the FDA issues warning letters, seizes products and conducts criminal prosecutions.

In December, for example, a woman pleaded guilty to an 18-count indictment charging her with the illegal importation and distribution of more than four million diet pills that contained a controlled substance, unapproved drugs and a possible cancer-causing agent.

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