A Big “Clap” for the FDA

Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) have always been a bit of a taboo subject.  Especially it seems among the FDA.   In a joint initiative with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the Agency has just sent warning letters to more than a dozen companies selling non-prescription products that claim to treat STD’s such as herpes, chlamydia, genital warts, HIV, and AIDS.

Despite names such as Medavir, Herpaflor, Never An Outbreak and C-Cure, the FDA says that none of the products have been proven to prevent, treat or cure any disease.  In fact, say FDA scientists, the products are a public health hazard because patients could waste time taking them and delay seeking medical care.

A full list of the companies and products involved can be found here.

These products, sold both online and in retail outlets, often claim to be supported by research. A website for Medavir, made claims the product “has been proven effective in several official university research studies, including an official FDA trial.”

Similarly, Arenvy Laboratories’ website for ImmuneGlory touts the product as “the ultimate herpes outbreak solution” and claims the product “strengthens your immune system so that herpes or cold sores have nowhere to hide.”

However, the Agency says that is has never approved any non-prescription products for sexually transmitted diseases.  Drugs are available for herpes, chlamydia, HIV and other diseases, but only via prescription.

These products are dangerous because they are targeted to patients with serious conditions, where treatment options proven to be safe and effective are available,” said Deborah Autor, FDA Director of Drug Compliance.

Companies cited by the FDA will have 15 days to take their products off the market. If they do not, the agency can take legal action, including seizing products and taking company officials to court.

Additionally, under the FTC Act it is illegal to make such unsubstantiated treatment claims.

These companies are on notice that advertising health benefits that are not supported by rigorous scientific evidence violates the FTC Act,” said David Vladeck, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “They also should know that health scams that endanger public health will not be tolerated.”

While we wait with baited breath to see if the companies will comply, Word on Health cautions its readers that appropriate treatment of STDs can only occur under the supervision of a health care professional.

FTC to take a pop at pop-ups?

Who among us hasn’t searched the Internet for information on asthma, allergy, or just about any other disease only to be plagued by unwanted  pop-up ads for drugs for that condition?

You’re not alone.   However, consumer and privacy groups are now asking the Federal Trade Commission, (FTC), to investigate and crack down on this allegedly “deceptive and unfair” marketing of drugs and dietary supplements on health-advice websites and forums.

The groups, including the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, the World Privacy Forum and Consumer Watchdog, filed a complaint with the FTC in November charging that pharmaceutical companies and the medical industry are secretly gathering information about patients, their conditions and their drug and treatment preferences through health websites, e-newsletters and online drug coupons.

The advocacy groups charge that when consumers use interactive health websites and social media to search for information on specific diseases or conditions, they’re often bombarded with ads for costly brand-name drugs and steered away from less-expensive generics and over-the counter medications. Some of the websites also fail to differentiate between objective editorial content and advertising, the groups say.

They also charge that some websites are spying on consumers, monitoring social media and using “cookies” and other means to track computer users’ habits in order to build personal profiles. The organizations say online health and medical marketers spent nearly $1 billion in 2010 targeting online consumers.

Privacy advocates are concerned that some of the marketing information gathered by companies could be used against consumers later — for example, by life insurers or employers to deny policies or employment.

Online advertisers generally contend the information they collect is anonymous. But privacy groups say a name isn’t necessary to identify someone, and consumers should be required to give consent to having their personal information collected.

Congress is currently considering measures that would strengthen online privacy protections, including “Do Not Track Me” legislation that would allow consumers to block computer technology that companies use to track their online behavior.

Meanwhile, SRxA’s Word on Health advises its readers to be skeptical of believing all  they see and read online.  While some condition-specific electronic health newsletters and discount coupons can be genuine and extremely informative, there are many other companies advertising products that may be counterfeit or just a scam.

As always, we suggest you discuss new therapies with your doctor before trying them so see if they are right for you. Additionally, don’t forget to read the small-print and privacy-policy disclosures before giving personal health information to online vendors.

Want to weigh in on this discussion.  We’d love to hear from you.