The Doctors: Tainted Supplements Investigation
Approximately 70% of Americans take dietary supplements, which contributes to a $35 billion industry. But do you really know what could be in those supplements? In an exclusive investigation, The Doctors went inside the FDA to reveal shocking news about supplements. Dan Solis, Director of Import Operations for the FDA, shared that he’s been with the FDA for over 17 years and has seen an increase in the volume of tainted and counterfeit products. He explained that the average American consumer likely isn’t aware of the amount of unknown ingredients the FDA is finding in supplements.
As the packages come through the Port of Los Angeles, the FDA investigators go through the initial screening process. Some common tainted products they see there include ED drugs, weight loss drugs, and dietary supplements claiming to be pain relievers. The products come in claiming to be herbal supplements, when they would actually be considered drugs because they have an active pharmaceutical ingredient in them. Dan took cameras inside a locked area to show the large variety of products that attempted to enter the United States to be sold.
Dan explained that the dangerous supplements are found everywhere from gas stations to mom and pop pharmacies. Some counterfeit versions of drugs are pretty obvious, but others mimic the real medication closely.
The Doctors: Dangerous Supplements In America
For the FDA to prevent the supplements from reaching American consumers, they have to prove the suspects contain drugs and that the alleged counterfeit drugs are truly fake. Several portable tools are used to determine authenticity, and if they get a positive match, it’s sent to an FDA lab for confirmation. Teresa Cain, a compliance officer for the FDA, explained that when they receive a sample, they put it through a detector that will give them results in less than an hour. Any products that are found to be tainted are destroyed by the FDA.
The cameras followed workers to an incinerator site, as Dan explained that the FDA recently got the authority to destroy the drugs rather than send them back to the sender. Just that morning, the FDA destroyed more than 500 pounds of dietary supplements or unapproved drugs worth over $1 million.
The Doctors: FDA Supplement & Drug Screening
Director of the FDA office of Criminal Investigations, George Karavetsos, joined the show explaining that it’s all about awareness. There are more than 50,000 supplements on the market today in the United States and consumers don’t know exactly what they’re getting. George explained that the FDA doesn’t have the authority to stop manufacturers from making the tainted supplements before they even get to the FDA, because supplements aren’t screened pre-market. The FDA can only take action after they’ve hit the market.
George wanted to be clear that there is a legitimate dietary supplement market out there, but the FDA is focused on the “worst of the worst” and modern-day snake oil salesmen who are preying on innocent, uneducated people. George acknowledged that it would certainly be helpful for the FDA to have the ability to screen the supplements before they hit the market. But a law would have to be proposed and passed by congress in order for that to happen.
The Doctors: Dangerous Vitamins & Supplements
Dr Jennifer Ashton asked George about seemingly simple supplements like a daily multivitamin, and reports that a large percentage of them don’t even contain the multivitamins that they claim to contain. Because of the number of doctors who suggest vitamins to their patients, she wanted to know what the FDA was doing about those products in particular. George stated that the FDA is, unfortunately, limited in doing anything proactive. Unfortunately, a lot of the times, they’re reacting to adverse events that occurred.
George shared that there was a counterfeit chemotherapy drug that was meant for patients fighting cancer. A woman going into a clinic in Arizona for her cancer treatment, instead of receiving the drug she needed, received tap water in which mold and fungus had grown. Dr Stork wondered if the people responsible for making the supplements are prosecuted, and George explained that they’re working to go after them. They recently conducted a joint operation with the Belgium police and stopped counterfeit products from getting to the United States.
The Doctors: How To Avoid Dangerous Fake & Tainted Supplements
To protect yourself from a dangerous supplement, George suggested beginning with common sense. If a product is making an outrageous, far-fetched claim, it’s likely a scam. The manufacturers of those drugs are concerned about nothing more than money. Second, talk to your doctor before taking a supplement to make sure it’s the right one for them, and a safe one to take.
Have you had a bad experience with supplements or counterfeit drugs? Do you have any tips to share to help people avoid falling for a dangerous scam? Tell us!