Congress Takes on Issue of Steroids Masquerading as Supplements

The U.S. dietary supplement industry is bracing for another flood of negative media attention following today’s Senate Subcommittee hearing on the topic of sports supplements and steroids. Titled, “Body Building Products and Hidden Steroids: Enforcement Barriers,” the hearing by the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs is expected to feature testimony that paints an extremely grim picture of a rogue sports supplement industry that is putting millions of people—including young and professional athletes—at risk.

Testifying before the Senate Subcommittee will be Michael Levy, director of the division of new drugs and labeling compliance at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA); Joseph Rannazzisi, deputy assistant administrator of the Office of Diversion Control at the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA); Travis Tygart, CEO of the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA); Daniel Fabricant, interim executive director and CEO of the Natural Products Association (NPA); and Richard Kingman, a partner in the law firm Covington & Burling LLP.

Tygart, who is expected to call for new supplement legislation during today's hearing, told the New York Daily News that greater consumer protection is needed in the area of sports supplements. “Consumers need to know that there are real people out there who are injured by steroids masquerading as legitimate supplements,” Tygart said. “People need to see what an unfortunate thing it is when someone takes a product that’s supposed to be helping them with their workouts and a few weeks after using the product they’re in the hospital.”

But, as Kingham told USA Today, the solution to the problem of steroid-tainted supplement does not lie in creating new legislation, the solution lies in the FDA fully enforcing the legislation that already exists. “This is a law enforcement issue,” said Kingham, who pointed to last week’s raid of supplement dealer as an example of FDA’s enforcement power.

FDA has reportedly been investigating since 2007. According to an FDA search warrant that was unsealed when the agency searched’s Boise, Idaho-based headquarters on September 24, 23 of 31 supplements purchased over the last two years by FDA investigators from contained anabolic steroids. spokesperson Amanda Cheslock told USA Today that her company does not manufacture the products and is cooperating with the investigation.

Sen. Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Democrat, convened today’s hearing after becoming interested in the issue of steroid-spiked dietary supplements following the 50-game suspension of Philadelphia Phillies pitcher J.C. Romero for testing positive for the androstenedione. Romero blamed the supplement product 6-OXO Extreme for the traces of the banned substance found in his urine in August 2008. “We’re looking at whether there’s adequate protection for consumers from getting these supplements which have steroids or steroid-like substances,” Specter told the Associated Press. “These tainted products can cause life-threatening injuries, such as kidney failure and liver injury.”

The products being targeted by Congress represent a fraction of the sports supplement market, which itself is a small piece of the overall $25 billion dietary supplement market. Still, the entire dietary supplement industry is expected to be affected by today’s hearing. While many in the industry are rightly nervous about the fallout and ramifactions following the hearing, others see a potential silver lining to Congress's actions. As NPA’s Fabricant told USA Today, the end result could ultimately benefit responsible industry. “We’re glad the Congress is looking into this, because anything we can do to separate the legal, safe and healthy dietary supplement industry from the seedy, fly-by-night and unsafe world of illegal steroids is worthwhile,” Fabricant said.

Nutrition Business Journal’s September issue is devoted to the $20.8 billion U.S. sports nutrition & weight-loss market and explores the sales impact recent negative news could have on this sector of the U.S. nutrition industry. To order a copy of the issue, subscribe to NBJ or download a free 32-page sample issue go to NBJ’s subscription page. NBJ will also host a Web seminar on the U.S. sports nutrition & weight-loss industry on October 27, 2009. Learn more or register for the Webinar via the NBJ Website.

Related NBJ articles:

SNWL Sales Suffer Blow from Recession and Flurry of Negative News Events

Elite Athletes Eschew Dietary Supplements Over Fears of Contamination

NSF, HFL and Others Help Firms Prove Their Sports Products Are Safe for Athletes

NBJ’s 2009 Sports Nutrition & Weight-Loss Web Seminar

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