Federal probe shines light on dangers of unregulated diet supplements

Government regulators have recently cracked down on manufacturers and distributors of many popular unregulated diet supplements.

Federal authorities recently announced the results - including more than 100 criminal charges against individuals and companies - of a lengthy probe into the largely unregulated diet supplement industry, and some consumer watchdogs are hailing the government's action as a step in the right direction. This comes on the heels of a scathing report about the dangers of supplements in the trade journal Drug Testing and Analysis that highlights the risks these products pose, particularly for members of the military and young athletes.

Among those indicted in the investigation is USP Labs, maker of the once-popular supplements Jack3d and OxyElite Pro (the company voluntarily destroyed its inventory of these products back in 2013 amidst growing government concern about the dangers associated with them, but they are still available in some areas). The Justice Department alleges that the company intentionally altered or doctored packaging, reports and labels in an attempt to defraud consumers and hide the true nature of the ingredients in its products. USP Labs is accused of, among other things, marketing its products as made from natural plant extracts, while the supplements are allegedly actually based upon potentially dangerous synthetic materials manufactured in a Chinese chemical factory.

A history of lax oversight

Since the passage of a 1994 law, the Food and Drug Administration has no authority to test or regulate dietary supplements prior to their hitting the marketplace. In effect, the public must rely upon the industry to "police" itself, something that it has, if the sheer volume of emergency room visits and wrongful deaths linked to these products indicates, largely failed to do. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that at least 23,000 people visit emergency rooms annually for treatment of such conditions as chest pains, allergic reactions, heart palpitations and choking following ingestion of diet supplements.

The use of USP Labs' OxyElite Pro has been linked with myriad liver injuries, the need for liver transplants and several deaths (including two military service members back in 2011). Those injuries and deaths provided the impetus for the U.S. military to take action to ban the use of products containing a particular chemical - the amphetamine-like stimulant dimethylamylamine (DMAA) - for military personnel on bases around the world.

If you've been injured or lost a loved one

Given that the dietary supplement marketplace is a multi-billion-dollar industry, chances are good that you or someone you love has taken one, whether it is in the form of a workout enhancer like OxyElite Pro, a weight loss tablet or a multivitamin. Knowing that they are unregulated and largely free from external quality controls and oversight, it is entirely possible that tainted ingredients, synthetic stimulants or other harmful substances could make their way into your body. If you have been injured - or you have tragically lost a loved one - because of a diet supplement or other harmful or defective product, you may be able to bring a legal claim to hold the manufacturer responsible. To learn more about your legal rights, speak with an experienced personal injury attorney at the Chicago law offices of Steinberg, Goodman & Kalish.