The opioid epidemic has been called the worst drug crisis in American history. It’s been blamed for hundreds of thousands of deaths and untold misery for millions who find themselves addicted to something that was originally supposed to help ease their pain.
In 2015 (the latest year for which statistics are available), public health officials estimate that 33,000 people died from opioid overdoses, adding to more than 300,000 deaths since 2000. According to the Center for Mississippi Health Policy, 1,229 people died in Mississippi from unintentional drug overdoses from 2007-2011. In many of those cases nationally (more than half of the Mississippi cases), the drug was a prescription painkiller, prescribed for patients with chronic pain. Others died from overdoses of opioid-based heroin or other illegal drugs, sometimes mixed with other prescription opioids such as Fentanyl and sold on a lucrative black market.
Since there is huge demand for any product that could potentially alleviate the tragic dependency on these substances, there is no shortage of companies selling products they claim will help. But in some cases, federal regulators say, they’ve gone too far. This week, the Federal Trade Commission put the brakes on claims made by a Texas-based company that marketed products called “Withdrawal Ease” and “Recovery Ease.”
“Opioid addiction is a scourge that has affected millions of Americans,” said acting FTC Chairman Maureen K. Ohlhausen, in a news release. “People who struggle with this problem need real help, not phony claims and false promises like the ones peddled by these defendants.”
According to the FTC’s complaint, Catlin Enterprises and its owners violated the FTC Act by making claims that Withdrawal Ease could alleviate the symptoms of opiate withdrawal or could increase the likelihood the user could overcome dependency. The agency challenged the claims on the basis they weren’t supported by scientific evidence of effectiveness. They also disputed Recovery Ease’s claim it could “significantly alleviate” long-term opiate withdrawal symptoms.
The FTC obtained a court order barring Catlin Enterprises and its owner from “making claims about opiate withdrawal, opiate dependency, or other health conditions, including through their product names, unless they possess competent and reliable science to back up those claims.” The agency also levied a $6.6 million fine, but noted the fine would be suspended “based on their inability to pay.”
This is the second recent case in which the FTC challenged claims a product could alleviate withdrawal symptoms. In a case settled last year, the agency levied a $235,000 fine against Sunrise Nutraceuticals after the company claimed its Elimidrol product could help ease the symptoms of opiate withdrawal.
As with any type of medical product claim, consumers should be skeptical of any claim the product can produce such dramatic results, especially when the stakes are so high. If you’re considering purchasing one of these products or recommending it for a friend or loved one, the first call you should make is to your physician or health care provider. And the Mississippi Department of Mental Health has a great pamphlet at http://bit.ly/2pwvG1A, providing information and resources to parents whose kids may be at risk from prescription drug addiction