Oregon Sues GNC for Selling "Natural" Supplements Laced with Illegal Chemicals

Last week, Oregon's attorney general sued General Nutrition Corporation (GNC) for allegedly selling so-called “natural dietary supplements” that were laced with illegal chemicals. Attorney General Ellen F. Rosenblum claimed that GNC has, again and again, knowingly violated Oregon's Unlawful Trade Practices Act (UTPA) by continuing to market and sell work-out supplements spiked with unmarked and illegal ingredients – such as picamilon (a synthetic chemical) and BMPEA (a speed-like substance) – as natural and botanical products.

Used in countries like Russia to treat neurological disorders, picamilon and BMPEA are not considered natural or safe, and are not approved for use in the United States. Safety aside, these chemicals have been found in some of GNC's dietary supplements, including Turbo Shred®, Meltdown Peach Mango®, and JetFuel® Superburn™. GNC has known since 2007 that these drugs are illegal, yet still chose to ignore this federal regulation, all the while keeping consumers in the dark by continuing to use the above mentioned hidden ingredients in their supplements.

FDA Issued Warning, Stores Still Carry Supplements with Hidden Ingredients

GNC is not the only offender, though. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has sent warning letters to other companies, including Target, Walmart, and Walgreens, about the sales of various "natural supplements" found in weight loss, body building, and male enhancement products. These chains claimed that the products in question contained a plant called Acacia rigidula, and that BMPEA was naturally produced by Acacia rigidula. In spite of the claims made by these corporations, the FDA has definitively stated that Acacia does not contain BMPEA.

Though the FDA has been targeting the sales of these products for years, and certain chains were ordered to immediately stop selling them, it is unclear whether some stores, similar to GNC, still carry supplements with hidden illegal ingredients. Attorney General Ellen F. Rosenblum further commented:

“It is scary to know that certain products sold by GNC contain an ingredient that is not even labeled — let alone approved in the United States. When all Americans buy a dietary supplement, they deserve to know that the ingredients in the products are safe and comply with the law. There are 25 GNC stores in Oregon that sold thousands of these products over the span of a couple of years.” 

More Money for GNC, More Hospitalizations for Consumers

It's unethical that GNC would continue to sell these supplements, knowing the effects that they could potentially have on consumers. At the end of the day, these chain stores are not looking after the people who buy their product, they are only concerned with revenue and what the sales of certain supplements means for them.

What's even scarier is that every year around 23,000 people end up in the Emergency Room due to complications from a weight-loss, bodybuilding, or energy supplement. And according to a report published in the New England Journal of Medicine, more than a quarter of these visits involve young adults between the ages of 20 and 34 years of age. GNC is not only endangering the public, the chain is also exposing young adults to needless health risks.

"Weight-loss or energy products were implicated in 71.8 percent of all emergency department visits for supplement-related adverse events involving palpitations, chest pain, or tachycardia (rapid heartbeat)," the NEJM report adds. These symptoms can be caused by stimulants like BMPEA.

While supplements can potentially be safe when taken as directed, many big businesses are prioritizing profits over the safety of Americans, young and old. The lawsuit against GNC brings that to light and proves that reading the label on supplements isn't always enough. This is just the beginning when it comes to ensuring that what we put in our bodies is in fact safe and healthy, and that chains like GNC are transparent about the ingredients in the products they sell.

Sokolove Law Team

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Last modified: December 28, 2016