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Dietary supplements containing potentially dangerous prescription drug ingredients may still be for sale even years after safety recalls, a study found. In supplements bought online, researchers detected hidden steroids, similar ingredients to Viagra and Prozac and a weight loss drug linked with heart attacks.
They tested 27 products promising big muscles, sexual prowess, weight loss and more. Of those, 18 contained ingredients not approved for over-the-counter use; 17 still had the same drug that prompted the recalls.
Manufacturers are putting profit ahead of consumer health, but lax oversight by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is contributing to the problem, said lead author Dr. Pieter Cohen, an internist and researcher at Cambridge Health Alliance, a Boston-area health care system.
The tested supplements were recalled by manufacturers after FDA raised concerns about drugs in their products. This type of recall is usually voluntary, involving products that could potentially cause serious health problems and even death. The FDA's role includes assessing whether recalls successfully remove potentially unsafe products from the market.
"There should be significant legal and financial consequences for manufacturers who the FDA finds to be continuing to sell these spiked supplements," Cohen said.
In response to the study, the FDA said it has issued hundreds of consumer alerts warning about tainted products, sent warning letters to supplement makers "and pursued civil and criminal enforcement" against those illegally marketed products. Deterring manufacturers is sometimes challenging because they are often difficult to locate and some are overseas, the agency said.