The opioid-scam epidemic

Can supplements marketed for opioid withdrawal speed detox? Here’s what our investigation found and how the FDA and the FTC have responded to it.

Drug overdoses killed 64,000 people in the United States in 2016. Roughly six out of every 10 of those deaths involved opioids. Methadone and other prescription drugs can help people kick the habit. What about Opiate Detox Pro, TaperAid Complete, and other supplements that are sold online?

“It will help to detox your body and help soothe the symptoms of opiate withdrawal naturally,” says one supplement’s website. “Speed Your Detox,” says another.

For many people who are dependent on opiate painkillers, those promises are tantalizing. That’s especially true for people who don’t have insurance that covers effective treatments.

Testimonials galore. Evidence? Not so much.

“But there’s no credible evidence that dietary supplements can help with the prevention of opiate addiction, detoxification, or relapse prevention or recovery,” says Bachaar Arnaout, an addiction psychiatrist and assistant professor at the Yale School of Medicine.

Addiction withdrawal “simply does not respond to mild measures like a vitamin or mineral supplement,” says Arnaout. “These supplement companies are giving false hope to people who are desperate to get better. The danger people face by being misled is that they will be resorting to ineffective measures that can cost them their health and their lives.”

We asked eight companies that market opioid-withdrawal supplements—most are combinations of vitamins, minerals, and herbs—to show us the evidence supporting their claims. What they produced was anything but convincing.

The makers of Vasovita 2.0, for example, said that they had “data documenting highly significant differences” between six people who were given Vasovita and six who were not. (Not exactly a big study.) But because the company has applied for a patent, “our attorney advises us not to release any further data at this time.”

The other companies didn’t even pretend to have that much. For example:

  • Mitadone Anti Opiate Aid Plus ($40 a month).
    Claims: “Helps ease withdrawal symptoms.” “Helps you quit.”
    Evidence: “We don’t really have any scientific studies as such currently, it takes years & millions of dollars to do that,” the company e-mailed us.
  • TaperAid Complete ($182 a month).
    Claim: “Helps those individuals who have decided to completely discontinue opioids.”
    Evidence: “Only informal studies with the 170 people I’ve shared it with so far,” a company spokesman wrote in an e-mail.
  • Opiate Detox Pro ($20 a month).
    Claims: “Advanced Addiction Withdrawal Formula.” “Opiate addiction ease.”
    Evidence: “Scientific studies are very costly, so no, there is no study,” the company e-mailed us.
  • Opiate Freedom Center Ultimate Recovery System ($75 a month).
    Claims: “Speed Your Detox.” “Make Withdrawal Easier.”
    Evidence: The company never responded to our e-mails. It also ignored a challenge to its claims from the Better Business Bureau’s National Advertising Board. The board has referred the case to the Federal Trade Commission.

“It is appalling that companies are profiting from the opioid epidemic by offering untested products whose use does not even correspond to the biology of opioid addiction,” says Arnaout. “The heartbreaking thing is that we do have FDA-approved medications that work for treating opioid addiction. But only a minor­ity of people actually receive them.”

In December 2017, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (Nutrition Action’s publisher) urged the Food and Drug Administration to ban the sale of the eight companies’ opioid-​withdrawal supplements and asked the Federal Trade Commission to file charges against the manufacturers for unsubstantiated claims in their advertising.

Last month, the FDA and FTC responded by issuing warning letters to 11 marketers and distributors of supplements that claim to aid in opioid withdrawal.

“The FDA’s and the FTC’s decisions to warn these exploitative companies could save lives,” says CSPI President Dr. Peter G. Lurie. “These ineffective withdrawal aids pose an imminent danger to very vulnerable consumers who are desperate to treat their opioid addiction.”

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