Patient Education

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Chronic Condition News

October 2013

Watch Out for Diabetes Drug Scams

Diabetes is becoming a health reality for more and more Americans. In response to this epidemic, dishonest companies want to cash in. Their products—sold online or in stores as dietary supplements, over-the-counter drugs, and unapproved prescriptions—masquerade as proven diabetes treatments. Even more concerning, they may not be safe to use.

A warning for consumers

Earlier this year, the FDA sent warning letters to 15 companies selling dubious diabetes products. These businesses falsely claim that their products can treat or cure diabetes. In particular, some say they can lower blood sugar levels or ease complications, such as nerve damage.

Why the warnings? These products lack scientific research proving they are safe to use. Some may even include harmful ingredients. In one product, the FDA found phenformin, a drug banned in the U.S. since the late 1970s. Others contained unregulated amounts of prescription drugs. Combining these products with other medications can lead to potentially dangerous interactions.

Products labeled as “herbal” or “all-natural” aren’t harmless either. For instance, one product contained bitter melon root and ginseng, among other ingredients. In several small studies, these two plants were tenuously linked to improved blood sugar levels. But they may also cause severe reactions in pregnant women or in people taking other medications.    

Avoiding the scam

Managing diabetes can be hard. Some people with the disease may try alternative treatments, such as dietary supplements or other complementary medicine. A recent survey of close to 4,000 adults with diabetes found that about 30 percent of them have tried such remedies. Those with the most severe symptoms were nearly twice as likely to use them.

If you are considering a dietary supplement or another type of complementary medicine, watch out for diabetes drug scams. Avoid products that claim they are a miracle cure or a quick fix. If they actually worked, health experts, such as the American Diabetes Association, would likely promote their use. Also be leery of products labeled as natural. That doesn’t necessarily equal safe. Some plants can be toxic.

It’s best to talk with your doctor first before trying any dietary supplement or similar product. You can then be sure the product won’t interfere with your current medications. Another important point to remember: Never use these products in place of proven medical treatments for the disease.


Caution: Online Prescriptions

Buying prescriptions online can be easy, quick, and convenient. But don’t be duped into paying for counterfeit or expired medications. Before purchasing from a pharmacy website, follow these precautions:

  • Check that the company is based in the U.S.

  • Verify that it is licensed to operate in the state it’s located in. Credible online pharmacies will often display a National Association of Boards of Pharmacy’s seal—also known as VIPPS. It stands for verified internet pharmacy practice site.

  • Make sure the pharmacy requires a doctor’s prescription. It is illegal to sell prescription drugs in the U.S. without one.

  • Confirm that there is a way to reach the company if you have any questions or complaints.

  • Review the website’s privacy and security policies before providing personal or financial information. 


Looking to save money on your medications? This article may help. 


Online Resources

Federal Trade Commission – Health & Fitness

FDA – Questions and Answers: FDA Alerts Companies to Stop the Illegal Sale of Products Claiming to Treat Diabetes

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