In the grand tradition of preying on people desperate for help, several OTC products on the market offer help they cannot deliver. In May, the FDA and the FTC teamed up to take action against products that make fraudulent claims to treat, cure, or prevent sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS.
Brand names under scrutiny include C-Cure, Herpaflor, Medavir, Viruxo, and Never An Outbreak. These products are advertised as treatments for a wide range of STDs and HIV/AIDS, but the claims are untested, unproven, and unlikely to work. The agencies have sent warnings to the companies informing them of federal law violations. If there is no response, the agencies warned of legal action, including seizure and injunction, or criminal prosecution.
Some of the products are marketed under the guise of dietary and health supplements, which are unregulated, but the manufacturers crossed the line by claiming to treat diseases. Drug products must be evaluated and approved by the FDA before they can be sold to the public. The FTC interest in the initiative involves the scammy nature of the claims. Since there is no scientific evidence to support the disease-fighting effects of these products, the claims violate FTC regulations.
These kinds of products are dangerous to the public on a number of fronts. At worst, people who believe the claims may consider themselves cured during a natural remission or a coincidental period of better health, and not seek real medical care. For HIV/AIDS patients, this could be deadly, or at least a significant health risk. In addition, people who believe they are cured may feel confident enough to engage in unprotected sex, putting other people, and by extension, future partners of sexual partners, at risk. At the very least, people with serious health concerns waste time, money, and hopes on products that ultimately do nothing.
As pharmacists on the front lines of consumer medicine, we are in the best position to advise customers about fraudulent products and false claims, but these types of products may embarrass potential customers enough that they won’t ask, and it’s a delicate subject to approach.
I’d love to hear how you would handle this kind of thing if a customer brought one of these products to your counter. Would you offer advice that could potentially alienate the customer, but could also save the customer from a false sense of security and an elevated health risk? Or would you choose to ignore the purchase and let the customer find out for himself? Is there a better option than either of these? Perhaps a printed information sheet along with a refund offer on the unopened package would be effective.