In a letter to the editor submitted to JAMA Open Network, American Herbal Products Association (AHPA) President Michael McGuffin stressed that the herbal products industry shares concerns about unapproved drugs masquerading as dietary supplements, as outlined in a recent article, but also highlighted that the authors mislead readers by failing to make a clear distinction between unlawful, misbranded drugs and legal dietary supplements.
This is not the first time that an article in a JAMA-affiliated publication has inaccurately identified such products as dietary supplements. AHPA submitted a letter in 2013 that was published in JAMA Internal Medicine in response to similar inaccuracies in an article in that journal, and that clarified that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) accurately identifies these fraudulent products as “masquerading as dietary supplements.”
Since 2011, AHPA has worked to keep consumers informed about illegal products that contain undeclared drug ingredients through our Keep Supplements Clean website. The website lists recalls and health advisories posted by FDA, and by international regulatory organizations in other countries including Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom. The fact that this is an international concern demonstrates that the U.S. legal and regulatory structure for dietary supplements is not to blame for this issue. Put simply, these products are illegal under current U.S. law and those who knowingly manufacture and distribute them are criminals.
"This is in stark contrast to the regulated dietary supplement industry which is committed to consumer safety," McGuffin noted in the letter. "AHPA and its members fully support strict enforcement of all laws and regulations, including those that prohibit illegal, undeclared drugs from being sold in any product. Entities that falsely market products as dietary supplements often work hard to blur the line between their contraband and legal products."
It is important for consumers to know the difference between these products and AHPA continues to encourage editors at JAMA and all of its associated journals to help educate readers to make this distinction in future articles by refraining from identifying these fraudulent products as dietary supplement – this is simply false.
AHPA received a response from JAMA Open Network stating, "Because we are an online-only journal, we are not accepting traditional letters to the editor nor unsolicited commentaries."
“This is at best an unfortunate position as future researchers will only be able to access the inaccurate information presented in the recent JAMA Open Network, and will not readily find AHPA’s corrections,” added McGuffin. “We urge JAMA to reconsider this policy.”