Lessons for consumers from the big billion day fiasco
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New report finds that recalled supplements containing hidden drugs are still available for purchase online
Before you reach for that supplement to boost your health, consider this recent medical journal report that found a significant number of supplements that have been recalled in the past few years are still on the market and contain hidden drugs.
A report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found 10 percent of supplements that were recalled between 2009 and 2012 were still available for purchase and a majority of them contained pharmaceutical drugs.
Manufacturers and distributors of dietary supplements do not need approval from Food and Drug Administration (FDA) before marketing a product but are legally responsible for selling safe products that are not adulterated with pharmaceuticals. If a supplement does contain active pharmaceutical ingredients then the FDA can deem them unapproved drugs and misbranded. Almost half of all FDA Class I drug recalls since 2004 involved dietary supplements that contained banned pharmaceutical ingredients, the report said.
The report reviewed 247 recalled supplements and found that consumers could still purchase 10 percent of them six months or more after the recall. Of these, 67 percent contained one or more hidden pharmaceutical drugs, typically the same drug that prompted the initial recall. Some of the supplements still sold online contained additional drugs as well.
Specifically, the study found:
Eighty-five percent of sports enhancement supplements tested had drugs, such as anabolic steroids.
Sixty-seven percent of weight-loss supplements contained banned drugs, such as sibutramine or prescription anti-depressants.
Twenty percent of sexual enhancement supplements contained prescription medications such as sildenafil.
The researchers called for changes to laws to give the FDA more enforcement powers and for more aggressive enforcement of current laws.
In a statement to TINA.org, an FDA spokesperson said the agency faces several challenges to prevent the adulterated supplements from being marketed.
The supply chain for these products is extremely fragmented; one product manufactured by an unknown company overseas may be sold by dozens of different distributors in the U.S. The individuals and businesses selling these products generally are difficult to locate, operate out of residential homes, and distribute via internet, small stores, and mail. Products are shipped through the (I)nternational mail facilities and are often misdeclared as unrelated goods to avoid detection. Even after recall and enforcement action against one major distributor, the product may continue to be widely sold.
Given all these issues, before taking a supplement you should probably check to see if it is on the FDA list of recalled products. Check with your physician before taking any health-related supplements. And read up on supplements. The FDA offers tips here. TINA.org’s continuing coverage of supplements can be found here.
Americans sent hundreds of millions of dollars to the Red Cross, confident their money would ease the suffering left behind by Superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Isaac. They believed the charity was up to the job. They were wrong
In 2012, two massive storms pounded the United States, leaving hundreds of thousands of people homeless, hungry or without power for days and weeks.
Americans did what they so often do after disasters. They sent hundreds of millions of dollars to the Red Cross, confident their money would ease the suffering left behind by Superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Isaac. They believed the charity was up to the job.
They were wrong.
The Red Cross botched key elements of its mission after Sandy and Isaac, leaving behind a trail of unmet needs and acrimony, according to an investigation by ProPublica and NPR. The charity’s shortcomings were detailed in confidential reports and internal emails, as well as accounts from current and former disaster relief specialists.
What’s more, Red Cross officials at national headquarters in Washington, D.C.
compounded the charity’s inability to provide relief by “diverting assets for public relations purposes,” as one internal report puts it. Distribution of relief supplies, the report said, was “politically driven.”
During Isaac, Red Cross supervisors ordered dozens of trucks usually deployed to deliver aid to be driven around nearly empty instead, “just to be seen,” one of the drivers, Jim Dunham, recalls.
“We were sent way down on the Gulf with nothing to give,” Dunham says. The Red Cross’ relief effort was “worse than the storm.”
During Sandy, emergency vehicles were taken away from relief work and assigned to serve as backdrops for press conferences, angering disaster responders on the ground.
After both storms, the charity’s problems left some victims in dire circumstances or vulnerable to harm, the organization’s internal assessments acknowledge. Handicapped victims “slept in their wheelchairs for days” because the charity had not secured proper cots. In one shelter, sex offenders were “all over including playing in children’s area” because Red Cross staff “didn’t know/follow procedures.”
According to interviews and documents, the Red Cross lacked basic supplies like food, blankets and batteries to distribute to victims in the days just after the storms.
Sometimes, even when supplies were plentiful, they went to waste. In one case, the Red Cross had to throw out tens of thousands of meals because it couldn’t find the people who needed them.
The Red Cross marshalled an army of volunteers, but many were misdirected by the charity’s managers. Some were ordered to stay in Tampa long after it became clear that Isaac would bypass the city. After Sandy, volunteers wandered the streets of New York in search of stricken neighborhoods, lost because they had not been given GPS equipment to guide them.
The problems stand in stark contrast to the Red Cross’ standing in the realm of disaster relief. President Obama, who is the charity’s honorary chairman, vouched for the group after Sandy, telling Americans to donate. “The Red Cross knows what they’re doing,” he said.
Two weeks after Sandy hit, Red Cross Chief Executive Gail McGovern declared that the group’s relief efforts had been “near flawless.”
The group’s self-assessments, drawn together just weeks later, were far less congratulatory.
“Multiple systems failed,” say minutes from a closed-door meeting of top officials in December 2012, referring to logistics. “We didn’t have the kind of sophistication needed for this size job,” noted a Red Cross vice president in the same meeting, the minutes say.
Red Cross officials deny the group had made decisions based on public relations. They defend the Red Cross’ performance after Isaac and Sandy.
“While it’s impossible to meet every need in the first chaotic hours and days of a disaster, we are proud that we were able to provide millions of people with hot meals, shelter, relief supplies and financial support during the 2012 hurricanes,” the charity wrote in a statement to ProPublica and NPR.
The Red Cross says it has cultivated a “culture of openness” that welcomes frank self-evaluation and says it has improved its ability to handle urban disasters. One reform, the Red Cross says, moved nearly one-third of its “disaster positions” out of national headquarters and into the field, closer to the victims.
But some Red Cross veterans say they see few signs the organization has made the necessary changes since Sandy and Isaac to respond competently the next time disaster hits.
Richard Rieckenberg, who oversaw aspects of the Red Cross’ efforts to provide food, shelter and supplies after the 2012 storms, said the organization’s work was repeatedly undercut by its leadership.
Top Red Cross officials were concerned only “about the appearance of aid, not actually delivering it,” Rieckenberg says. “They were not interested in solving the problem — they were interested in looking good. That was incredibly demoralizing.”