It’s not easy to keep up with the latest in health and wellness. Each day, new studies, research and developments in health make it difficult to pick out the most important information for you.
We’ll be sharing a few of the latest developments in health at the end of each episode of “Take Care” this year. As the year goes on, we may even revisit some earlier news to see where things stand months later.
Today we’re taking a look at two approaches to addressing the current opioid epidemic: a doctor urging the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) to stop dietary supplements from masquerading as withdrawal treatment and a Tompkins County partnership focusing on a holistic, family approach to a generational problem.
Stopping fake miracle treatment meds
With much worry surrounding the opioid crisis, some companies have taken advantage of the epidemic to market dietary supplements as treatment for opioid withdrawal symptoms, even though the FDA has called these claims unsubstantiated and the products dangerous.
Dr. Peter Lurie is the executive director and president of The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a Washington D.C.-based non-profit watchdog and consumer advocacy group that supports fighting for safer and healthier foods.
Unlike drugs, dietary supplements, Lurie said, are not regulated by the FDA. Therefore, their manufacturers do not have to provide evidence of safety and effectiveness before the supplements can be made available to consumers.
“[Dietary supplements] can come on the market [and], in effect, imply safety and effectiveness, and unless they make a claim that turns them into a drug, there’s very little that the FDA could do,” Lurie said.
The claims those companies typically make, Lurie said, are that the products help ease withdrawal symptoms associated with use of OxyContin and other opioids. Lurie said there are two major problems with these claims: there is no evidence to back them up, and they are encouraging consumers to use them in place of FDA-approved products.
“Potentially, they are diverting people from products that actually are effective and could benefit them in their efforts to treat a disease that could be life-threatening,” Lurie said.
Lurie said despite having no evidence to substantiate the healing effects they claim their products have, companies that produce these dietary supplements often insist that “the proof is in the pudding.” Sometimes, they instead acknowledge that they do not intend on ever conducting scientific studies because of the potential costs.
“In our view, if you’re going to be a company that markets a product with these kinds of important claims…you need to be able to conduct the studies to support a claim like that,” Lurie said.
The good news, Lurie said, is that the claims the companies have been making are more akin to those made about FDA-approved drugs, which could land them within the FDA’s regulatory jurisdiction.
“Since the companies never went to the drug division of FDA and asked for approval, what in effect they are doing is marketing a drug without approval, and that is just plain illegal,” Lurie said.
Lurie said he and his nonprofit spoke with FDA representatives to get the FDA to take action. The efforts achieved some success, with six of the eight troublesome products identified in the complaints being shut down or marketed as something other than an opioid withdrawal treatment.
Lurie said that as much as those measures will help consumers, the age of digital media means companies can put out new products with similar claims…