Whether you’re looking to buy weight loss, male enhancement, or certain other products, these days you’re apt to look for them online, rather than at a physical store.
But buyer, beware. When you buy such products, you may actually be getting an illegal product; and that product may contain potentially dangerous ingredients that are not on the label.
This is not a new development. Over the past decade, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has frequently warned consumers that certain products sold over-the-counter (OTC)—including those sold over the “virtual” counter—contain hidden active ingredients that could be harmful. Hidden ingredients are a problem in products promoted for weight loss, body building, pain relief, sleep aids, and sexual enhancement. Often, products containing active ingredients in FDA-approved drugs are falsely represented as dietary supplements.
It is clear from the results of our decade of testing that retailers and distributors, including online marketplaces, do not effectively prevent these types of potentially harmful products from being sold to consumers.
FDA has also found products marketed as supplements with claims to treat or prevent serious diseases such as cancer, HIV, and COVID-19. These products are typically unapproved drugs that have not been reviewed by FDA for safety or effectiveness, and consumers should not buy them.
What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You
Take weight loss and male enhancement products, for example. The FDA recently tested nearly 70 of these products found on Amazon, eBay, and Walmart.com, and discovered most of them contained active pharmaceutical ingredients not listed on the label. These hidden ingredients may interact with other drugs you are taking, or they may be associated with serious side effects.
All 29 of the products the FDA purchased on Amazon, and 20 of the 25 products (80%) purchased on eBay and half of the products purchased on Walmart contained undeclared active pharmaceutical ingredients. The FDA’s laboratory testing found the products contained various undeclared active ingredients, including sildenafil, tadalafil, vardenafil, sibutramine, desmethylsibutramine, phenolphthalein and/or fluoxetine. Most of these active ingredients are found in FDA-approved prescription drugs, including Viagra and Cialis; others were removed from the market for serious safety concerns.
How Can You Identify Dangerous Products?
It is easy for people to sell a potentially dangerous product online. We advise consumers not to purchase the weight loss, sexual enhancement, body building, sleep aid, and pain relief products that are listed in the Public Notifications at the links above.
If you are considering buying a product marketed as a dietary supplement, please go to the FDA’s tainted products database, where you will find nearly 1,000 of these potentially dangerous products listed. The agency updates the database as it finds new products that contain undeclared active pharmaceutical ingredients; however, new products and new websites pop up all the time, and it is impossible for the database to keep up.
Even if a product has a different but similar name or is not in the list, you need to be cautious. Also watch out for products that are sold in one- or two-capsule packages that promise immediate results. The FDA works hard to identify and remove potentially dangerous products from the marketplace, but it’s a constant and ongoing effort.
Steps to Take to Stay Safe
If you are thinking of using a product in one of these categories, talk to your doctor first. Ask your doctor for help in identifying reliable and credible information about the product.
Do not take products that are sold without a prescription and claim to treat, cure or prevent a serious disease such as HIV or cancer. Products approved to treat or prevent serious diseases generally are prescription products, which are restricted to use under the supervision of a licensed health care professional.
- Be cautious about trusting consumer reviews that include miraculous disease treatment and prevention claims.
- Be aware of websites that direct you to online marketplaces to buy products. Claims regarding a product’s ability to prevent or treat a disease made on these websites have not been reviewed by FDA.
- See BeSafeRx for information about how to safely buy medicine online.
And finally, if you experience an injury from a product, do not just add a product review to the online marketplace; please also report your concerns to the FDA’s MedWatch Adverse Event Reporting program so the agency can take any appropriate action to protect consumers from any unsafe products. Consumers are also encouraged to report unlawful sales of products sold online.