The bright spot in today’s news is that the FDA has announced its initiative against “contaminated weight loss products.” One has to applaud the agency’s efforts because diet supplements, in general, and weight loss products, in particular, have been “spiked” with pharmaceutical drugs for some time. The reason diet supplement marketers do this is because: 1.) drugs work, whereas diet supplements rarely do; and 2.) they can get away with it. The agency has been manacled in its enforcement efforts by the restrictions imposed by DSHEA, but it has also been substantially impaired in its efforts because of a lack of political will to regulate this wayward industry where it can. Thus, these kinds of initiatives are a breath of fresh air.
Imagine for a moment that it has been discovered that Pfizer had “spiked” its new blockbuster drug with a different, undisclosed drug, (or for that matter a diet supplement!). The FDA and the industry would be embroiled in immediate inquiries, and heads would roll. On the other hand, the FDA has known for decades about the illegal “spiking” of diet supplements with pharmaceuticals and has simply let the matter fester.
Be that as it may, the FDA has now released warnings as to a number of supplements, and has indicated that it will be seeking recalls of some of them. The supplements were found to contain sibutramine (a controlled substance), rimonabant (a drug not approved for marketing in the United States), phenytoin (an anti-seizure medication), phenolphthalein (a solution used in chemical experiments and a suspected cancer causing agent) or bumetanide (a diuretic). These substances all have pharmaceutical properties that include the laundry list of adverse effects one would expect. We have previously written about the deadly consequences of this type of adulteration here, and here, and we commend the agency for its efforts. Regardless whether the FDA is getting it or just getting around to it, this heightened scrutiny is long overdue.