When the economy is fragile and money is tight, people with HIV and other infections may look to the Internet or retail stores for treatment options that are less expensive than doctor-prescribed meds. But the Food and Drug Administration is warning consumers not to trust drugs that were never evaluated or approved by the government, specifically those claiming to cure HIV, genital warts, herpes, and other incurable infections.
Eleven manufacturers were issued letters on April 28 by the FDA and the Federal Trade Commission to stop making unproven claims with regards to their products. Among those manufacturers were Masterpeace Inc., which sells Disintegrate Formula and Detox Formula, claiming that its products treat HIV. Makers of other drugs like Medavir, Herpaflor, Viruxo, C-Cure, and Never An Outbreak claim to treat or cure herpes, though their claims have not been verified by the FDA.
The companies were given 15 days to notify the agencies of their plans to take the necessary steps to come into compliance with the laws. If they fail to communicate these steps, they may face legal action including seizure injunction or criminal prosecution.
FDA public relations specialist Shelly Burgess said the government agencies would continue to monitor and investigate the trade of these drugs, as well as build regulatory provisions to stop the dissemination of unapproved products.
'It is expected that the announcement will send a strong message that profiting through health fraud and endangering public health will not be tolerated,' Burgess said.
It is unknown exactly how many people have purchased these products, but Brandon Macsata, CEO of the AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP) Advocacy Association, says that this situation presents a clear example of why more could be done to regulate drug sales in the country.
'We could say that the United States has the most strict regulations for prescription drugs, and there's a reason. We want to make sure people are getting the medication they're supposed to be getting. We want to make sure it's a legitimate product that will combat the disease, or infection, that they have,' he said.
Burgess suggests that people seeking treatment should see a medical professional who can prescribe regulated, FDA-approved treatment. Macsata says he understands the economic hardships that many currently grapple with, which may keep people from paying for prescription medication and legitimate health care.
'We're facing the ADAP crisis, where there's 8,000 people on waiting list to get medications, while government officials are parading around saying they're getting help from pharmaceutical programs,' he says. 'Still, we don't know how many people are falling through the cracks. You have to look at it from the patient's perspective. If you don't have insurance, and the one program you rely on says it can't afford to serve you, you're going to do what you can to get access to some medication.'
Still, Mascata suggests finding other programs, charities, and other methods of finding sanctioned drugs. 'My advice to any patient is if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,' he says. 'If you're looking for a drug that costs $35 a day, and you find it for $8, there's probably a reason.'