Tainted Diet Supplements May Prompt Criminal Charges

Diet-supplement makers may face criminal investigations and felony charges if they sell "deceptively labeled" products that contain steroids or drug ingredients, U.S. regulators said.

Weight-loss, body-building and sexual-enhancement products are the most common types of illegal supplements, the Food and Drug Administration said today in a statement. Diet-supplement makers and their employees may be investigated for marketing the substances, the FDA said in a letter to manufacturers.

The FDA has worked with the diet-supplement industry in the past two years to recall more than 80 products marketed for body building, 70 for sexual enhancement, and 40 for weight loss, the agency said in its letter. Some of the weight-loss supplements contained the active ingredient in Abbott Laboratories' diet drug Meridia, which was pulled off the market in October because of heart risks. Some illegal sexual-enhancement supplements contain the active ingredient in the erectile-dysfunction drugs Viagra, Cialis and Levitra, the agency said.

"These tainted products can cause serious adverse effects, including strokes, organ failure, and death," FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said in the statement. "The manufacturers selling these tainted products are operating outside the law."

The FDA said it is working with five trade associations to combat illegal supplements. Illegal products "tarnish the reputation" of the legitimate supplement industry, the Council for Responsible Nutrition, the American Herbal Products Association, the Consumer Healthcare Products Association, the Natural Products Association and the United Natural Products Alliance said in a joint statement.

"Those who purposefully spike products are not legitimate dietary supplement companies, and the supplement industry is actively committed to being a part of this problem's solution," the five trade groups said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Molly Peterson in Washington atmpeterson9@bloomberg.net

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