Pain relief promise unproven

From Pain relief promise unproven: column, clarionledger.com

Millions of Americans deal with joint pain, much of it caused by arthritis and related conditions. The Arthritis Foundation estimates that more than 50 million Americans suffer from some form of doctor-diagnosed arthritis, and that number will soar to 67 million by 2030.

Joint pain is so common and so debilitating that many people will do just about anything to ease it. And while there are many ways to get some relief (even if it’s only temporary), the population of joint-pain sufferers has created a market for various types of products that promise relief.

Many products feature glucosamine and chondroitin, both of which are produced naturally in the body’s connective tissue. As to the effectiveness of these products, most reputable medical sources say more study is needed. But that hasn’t stopped promoters from coming up with hundreds of products that contain these products as dietary supplements. But, as one company found out recently, companies wishing to cash in on this lucrative market should be careful before making claims about what they can do for joint-pain sufferers.

Last week, the sellers of Supple, a glucosamine and chondroitin liquid supplement, agreed to a $150 million settlement with the Federal Trade Commission after the agency charged they falsely advertised that their product provided “complete relief from chronic and severe joint pain caused by arthritis and fibromyalgia” and was “scientifically proven to eliminate joint pain.”

Supple, the FTC alleged, didn’t have the medical evidence to back those claims.

“Companies need solid scientific evidence to back up the health claims they make,” said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Consumers should not have to take it on faith that products claiming to provide pain relief will live up to their billing.”

In federal court, the FTC alleged that Supple LLC,CEO Peter Apatow, and his ex-wife, Dr. Monita Poudyal, took in more than $150 million from sales. Marketing Supple through informercials, social media and by other methods, the company charged about $70 for a 24-day supply of the product while a 144-day supply sold for $270. In some infomercials, Poudyal acted as a medical-show host and Apatow (creator of the product) acted as the guest.

“Poudyal and Apatow described Supple,” the FTC noted in its news release, “as a powerful all-natural drink that provides complete and long-lasting relief from joint pain; treats or relieves chronic or severe pain, including pain caused by all forms of arthritis and fibromyalgia; provides pain relief comparable to drugs or surgery; repairs cartilage; rebuilds joints and entire joint structures; and restores mobility and joint function to consumers with severe mobility restrictions.”

For example, the website Consumerist.com quoted Apatow as saying, “If you just drink a can of Supple every day … it’ll help you get rid of all your pain, all your immobility, all of your suffering. You could stop taking dangerous pain drugs, you could avoid surgery.”

The FTC charges that these claims are false or not adequately substantiated. In addition, the commission alleges the defendants falsely claimed Supple is clinically proven to eliminate joint pain.

Other allegations included “expert endorsement” claims for the product made by Poudyal, while falsely representing herself as an independent, impartial medical expert and failing to disclose that she was married to Apatow during the marketing campaign. Endorsements, while effective in overcoming objections about buying a product, can be misleading if the objectivity of endorsers is compromised through conflicts of interest.

While Apatow, Poudyal and the company apparently will not have to come up with the $150 million (after telling the court they didn’t have the money), they will have to stop making any unsubstantiated claims in the future.

For more on this case, visit http://bit.ly/2e3LzGq.

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