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We should never have told people to take supplements — and a new lawsuit shows why

Business Insider logo Business Insider 10/5/2017 Erin Brodwin

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More than 5,000 Americans are about to get a check in the mail, after regulators discovered that a Florida-based supplement maker was peddling an herbal drink mix that it claimed could help treat addiction.

The company, Sunrise Nutraceuticals, marketed its Elimidrol powdered drink mix as having a "high success rate ... in overcoming opiate withdrawal" and said it could help people "leave addiction behind permanently," according to a statement from the Federal Trade Commission.

But the product, which Sunrise sold online by the tub for $75, contained no ingredients that have been scientifically proven to help with drug withdrawal or addiction symptoms. Instead, it was composed mainly of herbal extracts like lemon balm, ginger root, ginseng, and magnolia bark, plus a handful of vitamins and minerals such as vitamins B and C.

The FTC sued Sunrise for making "deceptive claims" and is sending refund checks totaling more than $210,000 to people who bought Elimidrol, many of whom may have been using the product to help treat addictions to opioid painkillers.

"Opiate addiction has taken a tremendous toll on the American public,” Jessica Rich, the Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in a statement. “By peddling their unproven product, these defendants have prevented people from seeking legitimate treatment.”

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Sunrise is one of hundreds of supplement makers that have been sued by the FTC for allegedly making bogus health claims.

While supplements might sound harmless, many are unnecessary, misleading, or even dangerous. The $37-billion-dollar supplement industry is largely unregulated; the agencies who oversee it are confined mainly to reacting once a supplement is found to have hurt someone or severely misled them. As a result, pills and powders that are found to be linked with negative conditions like cancer or kidney stones may only get recalled after they've lingered on grocery shelves for months.

"In the US, no dietary supplements are pre-screened for safety and efficacy," S. Bryn Austin, a professor of behavioral sciences at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, told Business Insider. "What that means is the FDA and consumers have no way to know if what’s in the bottle or box is what’s on the label. There’s no way to know for sure that what’s in the product is safe."

The FTC case against Sunrise is part of the agency's ongoing work with the Food and Drug Administration to protect consumers from misleading health advertising. If you think a claim on a dietary supplement is false, you can report it to the FTC. If you've had an adverse reaction to a supplement, you can report it to the FDA.

Slideshow: 11 Diet Supplements: Are They Worth the Money? (Courtesy: Cheapism)

TO BUY OR NOT TO BUY: <p>Unless you eat a perfectly <a href="">balanced diet</a> and soak up plenty of sunshine, you might need a diet supplement. But before dropping dough on a bottle of pills, it's best to determine if you really need them by checking with your doctor. Here's what science has to say about some of the most common supplements.</p><p><strong>Related:</strong><a href="">17 Health Products and Services That Cost Less at Costco</a></p> 11 Diet Supplements: Are They Worth the Money?


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