Supplements Spiked with Steroids Coming to an End?

United States Anti-Doping Agency teams up with NFL, MLB to curb steroid-spiked supplements
by Wayne Coffey and Michael O’Keeffe

The United States Anti-Doping Agency is teaming up with the NFL, Major League Baseball and other sports organizations to pressure the federal government to crack down on rogue companies that manufacture supplements spiked with steroids and other banned substances.

USADA’s “Supplement Safety Now” campaign won’t ask Congress to repeal the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act, the 1994 law that allows supplement manufacturers to sell products without testing them for safety or effectiveness. But the campaign will seek modifications to DSHEA and other federal laws to make it more difficult for companies to sell steroid-tainted supplements online and through mainstream retail outlets.

USADA chief executive officer Travis Tygart said the campaign will also ask lawmakers to provide more resources to the Food and Drug Administration and other regulators.

“Our mission is to urge Congress to establish a regulatory framework that ensures that all supplements sold over the counter in retail stores and online are safe and effective and that the federal agencies regulating this industry have the tools to effectively protect consumers’ health,” Tygart said during a telephone press conference.

“From our perspective, until these problems are adequately addressed, even the most informed and cautious consumer can’t have full confidence in their choice when deciding to select supplements,” Tygart said.

The campaign will ask Congress to require supplement manufacturers to register with the FDA and provide the agency with product names and ingredients. “The FDA has no idea how many products are out there containing these different designer steroids,” Tygart said.

Athletes, of course, have been blaming positive tests for banned substances on tainted supplements for years, and in many cases that excuse sounds as credible as “the dog ate my homework.” But Tygart said studies show that numerous products available at stores or on the Web contain steroids, stimulants and other dangerous drugs.

J.C. Romero of the Philadelphia Phillies was banned for 50 games after testing positive for the banned steroid precursor androstenedione in 2008; Romero filed a lawsuit against GNC, Vitamin Shoppe and two supplement manufacturers earlier this year. Two Minnesota Vikings players – Pat Williams and Kevin Williams have blamed contaminated supplements for their positive drug tests.

Bill Gurley, a professor of pharmaceutical sciences at the University of Arkansas, said a “substantial majority” of muscle-building supplements contain adulterants. “It’s definitely a problem, and something that definitely needs to be addressed,” Gurley said.

Steve Mister, the chief executive officer of the Council for Responsible Nutrition, a supplement industry group, said his organization supports the Safe Supplements Now initiative, especially its call for greater resources for regulatory agencies. But he believes only a small percentage of the companies in his industry sell tainted supplements. “We really think the law as it written right now is more than adequate to take these products off the market and prosecute the people who are putting them on the market,” Mister said.

Mister believes FDA has been derelict in enforcing DSHEA, pointing out that the original law called for “good manufacturing practices” to be enforced — and that didn’t happen until 2007, when a three-year phase-in of GMPs began.

“The bottom line is that the FDA is so short-handed in looking at all this stuff, with regard to their ability to monitor the supplements and the supplement manufacturers,” Gurley said. “That’s why so much crap has been able to fall through the cracks.”

Tygart was joined at the press conference by Rob Manfred, MLB’s executive vice president for labor relations, and by NFL vice president of law and labor policy Adolpho Birch. The Supplement Safety Now campaign is also endorsed by the United States Olympic Committee, NBA, NHL, NCAA and other sports organizations.

“These unscrupulous supplement manufacturers intentionally exploit loopholes in the federal regulations by selling products containing drugs and marketing them as ‘safe’ and ‘legal,'” Manfred said. “Congress needs to act now to close these loopholes.”

Tygart said USADA officials purchased a steroid-tainted product called P-Plex through on Monday. The supplement’s ingredients include a steroid created for BALCO called Madol, Tygart said.

“We are absolutely targeting the rogue profiteers who have hijacked the legitimate distribution channels of the supplement industry to push their drugs on our kids,” Tygart said.