According to the CDC, more than 34 million Americans have diabetes. To put a human face on that public health statistic, 1 in 10 people at your company, friends in your neighborhood, and members of your extended family struggle with a disease that could threaten their lives. The uninsured, those with high-deductible health plans, and lower-income consumers face another challenge that makes managing diabetes even more difficult: the high cost of insulin. The prohibitive price has caused many patients to ration their insulin or forgo it altogether, often with catastrophic health consequences.
Sadly, these high prices are driving many to turn to questionable products that imply without solid science that users can reduce their dependence on insulin. Claims like that are a powerful draw to anyone struggling to cover the cost of their prescriptions, but they put people with diabetes at risk for physical or financial injury. That’s why the FTC and the FDA have joined forces to call out 10 companies for selling purported diabetes treatments that don’t appear to have scientific support, including 7 companies that posted these claims on social media.
The FTC Cease and Desist Demands and FDA Warning Letters cite a broad range of claims for various concoctions of herbs and plants advertised online and through social media – and sometimes pitched in English and Spanish. For example, companies have claimed that their particular product “works great to lower high blood sugar,” “help[s] balance blood sugar levels for people with diabetes,” and “help[s] maintain healthy A1c blood sugar levels in diabetics and prediabetics.” Another product geared to people who “need to decrease [their] body’s need for insulin” described itself as “a clinically-effective formula containing powerful ingredients designed to improve insulin sensitivity and enhance blood glucose (sugar) control.”
According to the FDA Warning Letters, the products are “new drugs” that can’t be sold without prior FDA approval. The recipients have 15 days to tell the FDA what steps they’ve taken to address any violations. “Failure to adequately address these matters may result in legal action including, without limitation, seizure and injunction.”
The FTC Cease and Desist Demands state unequivocally that the companies “must cease and desist from making any claim that a product and prevent, treat, or cure diabetes without competent and reliable scientific evidence consisting of well-controlled human clinical studies substantiating that the claims are true.” Furthermore, “Violations of the FTC Act may result in legal action seeking a Federal District Court injunction or Administrative Cease and Desist Order” and marketers who make deceptive claims about the treatment, cure, or prevention of a disease may face hefty civil penalties under the Commission’s Penalty Offense Authority, 15 U.S.C. Section 45(m)(1)(B). The FTC also has given the companies 15 days to report back with the specific actions they’ve taken to address those concerns.
That’s the message for the companies who received the letters. What’s the message for others making similar claims on websites and social media platforms? Stop it now. Don’t put consumers at physical and financial risk by diverting them from proven remedies to products unsupported by sound science.
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