Watch out for fake cure-alls, agency warns

In the last three years, the FDA has found more than 100 illegally marketed weight-loss products containing sibutramine. In 2010, a weight-loss drug called Meridia, which listed sibutramine as its active ingredient, was pulled from the market because studies associated it with an uptick in heart attacks and strokes.

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“Health fraud is a pervasive problem,” said registered pharmacist Gary Coody, the FDA’s national health fraud coordinator, “especially when scammers sell online.”

Coody says online marketing — in pop-up ads and websites — makes it difficult for regulators to track the fraudulent products.

“When we do find them and tell them their products are illegal, some will shut down their website. Unfortunately, however, these same products may reappear later on a different website, and sometimes may reappear with a different name,” Coody said.

“Scammers promote their products through newspapers, magazines and TV infomercials,” the FDA warns.

The FDA says it has even come across companies peddling drugs that claim to cure fungal meningitis, kidney dysfunction, Alzheimer’s and skin cancer, among other serious diseases.

The FDA said consumer should be wary of so-called “personal testimonies,” which are no substitute for scientific data.

“Alarms should go off when you see this claim or others like it such as, ‘new discovery,’ ‘scientific breakthrough’ or ‘secret ingredient.’ If a real cure for a serious disease were discovered, it would be widely reported through the media and prescribed by health professionals — not buried in print ads, TV infomercials or on Internet sites,” the FDA notice reads.