The Times is once again off-base, this time on drugs, posing as supplements

By ACSH Staff — Apr 13, 2015
For the second time in a month, we must take issue with the editorial board of The New York Times.

Screen Shot 2014-10-08 at 2.09.13 PMFor the second time in a month, we must take issue with the editorial board of The New York Times.

ACSH s Dr. Josh Bloom, in his piece on Science 2.0 entitled The New York Times On Drugs - Wrong, Naive Or Misleading? challenged the conclusions of the paper s stance on how to address narcotic abuse in the U.S.

This time, he takes issue with today s editorial, entitled Conflicts of Interest at the F.D.A., which discussed the recent (and, unfortunately, all-too-common) scandal arising from the dietary supplement industry.

His most recent commentary on the industry, entitled What the hell is GNC selling now? examines the underlying reasons and nonsensical logic that is the foundation of the entire industry. They are of course aided and abetted by their Congressional champion, Orrin Hatch (R-UT).

Today s Times editorial focuses on a relatively minor point of the BMPEA affair, which began when the chemical an untested stimulant which is closely related to amphetamines, such as the controlled drug Adderall was found in multiple brands of energy boosters. The paper blames the FDA, citing a conflict of interest between Dr. Daniel Fabricant, a former influential member of the Natural Products Association trade group, and who, from 2011-2014 was the head of F.D.A. s division of dietary supplement programs.

Indeed, there was a two-year period between the time that the FDA became aware of the presence of the adulterant in these supplements and when they took action. It is perfectly logical to question Fabricant s appointment to a government position where a conflict of interest real or perceived may exist. But, Dr. Bloom maintains that the Times misses the big picture, instead, focusing only on a symptom of the real issue.

He says, Incidents such as this, not to mention many others, arise from the artificial divide between legitimate drugs that have gone through the exhaustive FDA review process, and untested and unapproved drugs that are found in many supplements.

This absurd disconnect is the result of the perversely-named Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) of 1994, which was pushed through congress by Senators Orrin Hatch (R, UT) and Tom Harkin (D, IA), no doubt to protect the dietary supplement industry, which is largely centered in Utah.

Dr. Bloom says, The entire premise of DSHEA is badly flawed that there is somehow an innate difference in the safety and efficacy of drugs that come from natural sources and those that are synthesized in labs. Scientifically, this is dead wrong. Worse still, supplement drugs are allowed to avoid the term drug entirely by putting intentionally misleading and/or contradictory language on the label. This bit of sleaze is obvious from the disclaimer that must appear on every bottle: "This statement has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease."

Worse still, he says, the disclaimer is in fine print, but the intent of the message is not. Supplement makers are allowed to use the term supports as in supports prostate health or supports the immune system. One hundred percent of consumers reading these labels will equate supports with treats or prevents two of the terms that are part of the FDA s definition of what a drug is. As good an example of doublespeak as George Orwell could come up with.

We at ACSH have said this time after time: The FDA, thanks to DSHEA, has no power to approve or reject supplements before they can be sold. They can only act after a problem has been identified. This is sheer insanity, and essentially turns humans into lab rats.

Dr. Bloom concludes, Although the Times is technically correct about the conflict of interest, this is largely irrelevant. The F.D.A. s division of dietary supplement programs should not even have to exist at all. It is a governmental artifact brought about by a scientifically flawed and illogical law.