New Year, New You? Buyers Beware Around Supplement Sales Online

January 18, 2018

By: Matthew Rubin, Faegre Baker Daniels Consulting

We are all familiar with the last-minute New Year’s resolution around losing a few pounds or starting that gym membership in hopes of adding lean muscle. Often, consumers may be enticed by the idea of a quicker, easier pathway to success. Enter the internet.

Nowadays, consumers have the opportunity to search online for a dietary supplement – including weight loss, muscle building, or sexual enhancement products – that offers the best deal, quickest delivery, or promotes superior results. It is estimated that over 170 million United States consumers use dietary supplements. However, just because these products are widely available online does not mean they are all necessarily safe, or even legal. In many instances, dietary supplements sold online could pose harmful, if not life-threatening, risks.

Since 2007, Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER) has compiled a running list of all products marketed as dietary supplements that were found to be tainted. While this does not represent the full universe of potentially hazardous products available to consumers online, as of January 11, 2018, FDA has found 849 instances of products marketed as dietary supplements that have hidden or undisclosed ingredients.

  • 409 products (48.2%) classified as “sexual enhancers” have been found to contain sildenafil, tadalafil, and other active pharmaceutical ingredients found in prescription-only products;
  • 328 products (38.6%) for “weight loss” were found to be tainted with drugs such as sibutramine, phenolphthalein, ephedrine alkaloids, fluoxetine, and other banned or prescription-only ingredients; and
  • 90 products (10.6%) marketed for “muscle building” were found to be tainted, including aromatase inhibitors or steroids.

The three classes of dietary supplements listed above accounted for nearly 98% of the tainted or adulterated products marketed as dietary supplements listed on FDA’s tracker. Coupled with recent data from NABP’s findings that upwards of 96% of online pharmacies surveyed were out of compliance with state and federal law and relevant pharmacy practice standards, you get a recipe for disaster.

As consumers jump into 2018 with lofty goals for weight loss or muscle building (or even sexual enhancement), the appeal of a cheap, quick, and low-profile fix could do much more harm than good. If consumers do choose to purchase their supplements online, and assume them to be safe, they should verify the online sellers by looking for sites approved by NABP’s .Pharmacy Verified Websites Program.