Lamar Odom's 'Herbal Viagra': Was It on FDA's Target List?

by Maggie Fox /  / Updated 

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The Food and Drug Administration has long been targeting “natural” sexual enhancement products that actually contain prescription drugs.

The owner of a Nevada brothel where former basketball star Lamar Odom collapsed Tuesday said he’d been taking “lots of” so-called “herbal Viagra."

The sheriff's office said Odom had taken cocaine. It might be impossible to confirm what else Odom might have taken and whether it added to his symptoms. But FDA’s been worried about such products for years, sending out dozens of notices.

With names like “Full Throttle On Demand’, “3 Hard Knights” and “Ninja Mojo”, it’s clear what they are promising. And some of them can deliver more than what’s on the label, according to FDA. Many contain sildenafil, the active ingredient in Viagra, even though it’s not listed on the label, or the structurally similar sulfoaildenafil.

“This undeclared ingredient may interact with nitrates, which are found in some prescription drugs, such as nitroglycerin. This interaction may lower blood pressure to dangerous levels. Men with diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or heart disease often take prescription drugs that contain nitrates,” the FDA warns.

The agency published a study in the New England Journal of Medicine this week that calculated that supplements send about 23,000 people to emergency rooms each week. Many were young adults taking weight loss and energy supplements. The FDA says adulterated diet pills and sexual enhancement capsules top its list of tainted products that endanger the public.

But if the products are labeled as natural, and if the drug itself isn’t even listed on the label, men may not know of the risk.

Plenty of men may be at risk, however. Sales of “natural sexual enhancers” are booming, with the market an estimated $400 million or more.

Unlike prescription drugs, supplements and herbal products are not regulated by the FDA before they are sold. So long as makers don’t make specific healthy claims, they can sell products made with ingredients that are “generally recognized as safe”. But the FDA can test these products and if prescription drugs or other potentially dangerous ingredients are found, it can warn the public.

The FDA keeps an online list of supplements it knows are tainted. But one spokeswoman noted it's hard to keep up, and supplement makers can simply change the name and website they use to distribute their products.

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