AHPA shines spotlight on illegal drug ingredients

When illegal drugs masquerade as supplements, not only do consumers get hurt, an entire industry does, too.

That's the message behind the lead article in the August, 2010, report by the American Herbal Products Association. Michael McGuffin, CEO of AHPA and one of the authors of the article, said the association is trying to address the issue by shining a light on enforcement actions of the Food and Drug Administration. It's part of the effort to get across the idea that the supplements industry IS regulated, and that these regulations are being enforced.

"AHPA has come to believe that one of our roles is to broadly publicize FDA enforcement activities. We want our consumers to know that these aren't our products," McGuffin said.

"These are renegade companies — which every industry has — who are willing to break the law in order to make a quick buck," said Bob Green, president of Nutratech, Inc. "Our concern is that it is portrayed in the media as a widespread issue and gives critics of dietary supplements ammunition to cast aspersions on our entire industry."

Three illegal drugs — undeclared steroids and hidden knock-off versions of erectile dysfunction drug sildenafil and weight-loss drug sibutramine — are showing up in products marketed in the sports and performance, male libido and weight-loss categories. Not coincidentally, these are vanity categories that make big bucks.

With the money to be made it's unlikely the flow of these illegal drugs will abate any time soon. But a voluntary recall of tainted products may not spare companies judged to have knowingly or negligently imported illegal substances. Prosecutors have sought prison sentences as long as 20 years in some cases.

"There's a message there: If you want to sell these products you could go to jail," McGuffin said.

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