Hundreds Of OTC Dietary Supplements Tainted With Unapproved Drugs Such As Viagra And Steroids

Pictured is an assortment of drugs and dietary supplements.
Christopher Furlong / Getty Images

Nearly 800 over-the-counter dietary supplements sold between 2007 and 2016 were tainted with unapproved drug ingredients, findings of a new study have revealed.

Analysis also revealed that there were more than one unapproved pharmaceutical ingredient in 20 percent of these tainted supplements.

The findings were based on data from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Tainted Products Marketed as Supplements List, which catalogs anytime health regulators find unapproved pharmaceutical ingredient in supplements.

For the research published in the JAMA Network Open on Oct. 12, Jenna Tucker, from the California Department of Food and Agriculture in Sacramento, and colleagues found that the FDA identified 746 supplement products sold from 2007 through 2016 as pharmaceutically adulterated.

Adulterants included unapproved designer steroids and antidepressants, as well as a prescription appetite suppressant that was withdrawn from the market due to links to increased risk for heart attack and stroke. Some of the supplements also contained sildenafil, the prescription erectile dysfunction drug sold under the brand name Viagra, among others.

According to NPR, the FDA has the power to recall tainted supplements but it failed to require any of the 146 companies that manufactured the adulterated products to remove them from the market.

In 360 of these cases, manufacturers voluntarily recalled the tainted supplements albeit there is no way of knowing if the products were indeed pulled out from the market. In 342 cases, FDA posted a notice, warning the public about these supplements.

A customer looks at dietary supplements available for sale.
  Darren McCollester / Getty Images

Only in seven cases did the federal agency issue a warning letter to nudge the producer of the supplements to pull out the products. Peter Cohen, from the Harvard Medical School who wrote an accompany commentary on the study, explained that the FDA would have to send a warning letter to the manufacturer before it could seize a supplement and destroy it.

“This report shines a harsh light on the problem of adulteration,” Center for Science in the Public Interest President Peter Lurie commented. “It’s a very disturbing picture. You’ve got hundreds of these products that contain active pharmaceuticals, many of which pose a real threat to human health.”

Tucker and colleagues urged that the issue needs to be addressed given the potential dangers associated with use of these tainted supplements.

“These products have the potential to cause severe adverse health effects owing to accidental misuse, overuse, or interaction with other medications, underlying health conditions, or other drugs within the same dietary supplement,” they wrote in their study.

“As the dietary supplement industry continues to grow in the United States, it is essential to further address this significant public health issue.”