redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports — Your Universe Online
In their continuing battle against substances falsely claiming to be able to help treat or cure the flu, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is now targeting producers of dietary supplements and medicines claiming to be generic versions of drugs that have been approved by regulators.
According to Reuters reporter Toni Clarke, the FDA sent letters to nine online supplement distributors warning them about making unauthorized claims their products could be used to fight the influenza virus.
The FDA has demanded the firms “cease deceptive labeling of products as flu remedies and stop selling medicines marketed as generic versions of the prescription flu treatment Tamiflu,” said NBC News Correspondent Linda Carroll.
In one of the letters, the agency warned that a drug distributor — Supplementality LLC — was “improperly offering products intended to diagnose, mitigate, prevent, treat or cure the flu virus,” Clarke said. The agency went on to demand “the company ℠immediately cease marketing´ in this way.”
She added that the warning “covers products including Resveratrol, Garlic, Echinacea, Elderberry, Ashwagandha and Astragalus Immune System Support,” and Gary Coody, the FDA´s national health fraud coordinator, emphasized there were “no over-the-counter products that shorten the duration or severity of the flu.”
Coody told Jonathan D. Rockoff of The Wall Street Journal some of the Internet retailers contacted by the FDA had already responded to the agency´s warning.
For example, he said Kosher Vitamin Express, which received the letter on Monday, had already removed the offending substances, including Zahlers Kosher Abreve Advanced Cold & Flu Formula. Others, including www.topsavingspharmacy.com and www.sundrugstore.com, had yet to respond, Rockoff said. Both websites continued marketing “Generic Tamiflu” as of Friday afternoon.
“The FDA hasn’t approved generic versions of Tamiflu or another prescription flu treatment called Relenza,” Rockoff explained. “Nor has the FDA approved any over-the-counter drugs to prevent or cure the flu, though it has green-lighted over-the-counter medicines that reduce fever and relieve muscle aches, congestion and other symptoms associated with the flu.”
Coody told The Wall Street Journal products such as these, sold online, could be counterfeit medications, the wrong drug disguised as a flu treatment, too weak or too strong. Fortunately, to date the agency has not received any reports of patients who fell ill after taking these supplements, he said.
“We want people to take effective preventive measures against the flu,” Coody told Rockoff. “Not only could they be getting something totally ineffective, they could have a false sense of protection.”
“Any time a health threat occurs, fraud emerges almost overnight,” he noted in a separate interview with NBC News. “We saw it with the avian flu and H1N1 in 2009. It´s the nature of the Internet and social media that allows firms almost instant access to consumers, so they can get their messages out there very quickly.”
The companies contacted by the agency have 15 days to take action before the FDA can pursue legal sanctions against them.
“The FDA will consider whatever means are necessary to stop the marketing of fraudulent flu products to prevent them from proliferating in the marketplace — and will hold those who are responsible for doing so, accountable,” FDA spokeswoman Sarah Clark-Lynn told Carroll. “This may include considering civil (seizure, injunction) or criminal (prosecution) enforcement action as appropriate.”