Athletes should be aware that companies creating dietary supplements for sports performance may spike their products with ingredients they know are illegal, and then deceive regulators and consumers in order to sell their products. Due to the post-market regulation of dietary supplements, and the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) limited ability to monitor all of the products on the market, many companies get away with such practices even though their products can damage athletes’ careers and health.
Despite the challenges of removing illegal products from the market, regulators do occasionally catch up with the people who own and run fraudulent supplement businesses. Keep reading for a few examples.
USPlabs has recently faced litigation after deceiving athletes by selling pre-workout products with the permitted ingredient “geranium extract” listed on the label, despite the fact that they were actually using a prohibited synthetic experimental stimulant called methylhexanamine and did not list it on the label. Their products, Jack3d and OxyElite Pro, were among the earliest products ever listed on the USADA High Risk List. Jack3d and OxyElite Pro were associated with multiple positive anti-doping tests for methylhexanamine (also known as DMAA), and OxyElite Pro was also later associated with severe liver damage, requiring some users to undergo a liver transplant.
In the indictment brought by the Department of Justice, USPlabs’ principals admitted that they imported methylhexaneamine from a chemical company in China and lied about the source of the ingredients by saying that the DMAA was from natural plant extracts (geranium). They also instructed the chemical company in China to create fake certificates that said the ingredient was “geranium flower powder.” The indictment even cites an email from one principal to another saying, “lol stuff is completely 100% synthetic.”
There are many more examples of fraud in the indictment, including the allegation that two USPlabs principals lied when they testified under oath during a case involving a professional athlete who tested positive from Jack3d.
After nearly a decade of selling dietary supplements that contained illegal performance-enhancing drugs, USPlabs’ owner and four executive officers and staff members pled guilty to mislabeling dietary supplements and were sentenced accordingly.
In a similar case of dietary supplements marketed to athletes, the CEO of Enhanced Athlete was sentenced to three years in prison for selling Selective Androgen Receptor Modulators (SARMs) in dietary supplements. The company marketed their supplements for weight loss and knowingly included dinitrophenol (DNP), an extremely toxic chemical that’s not approved for human consumption. According to the Department of Justice, “DNP has been commercially used to manufacture dyes and wood preservatives, as a fertilizer, and as a pesticide.”
In yet another example of supplement fraud, the owners of Blackstone Labs were indicted in March 2019 for selling dietary supplements containing numerous illegal ingredients, including dimethazine, DMBA, and SARMs. The indictment alleges the owners of Blackstone Labs knew that their products were illegal and created illicit companies to manufacture their products and then sell them through distributors. Opening in 2012, Blackstone Labs had been in business for seven years before their recent indictments.
In all of these examples, the companies were able to market products as dietary supplements for many years before there was legal action against them. Athletes need to be aware that the law cannot protect them from dietary supplements spiked with harmful and performance-enhancing drugs.
If athletes choose to use supplements despite the risks, USADA has always recommended that athletes use only dietary supplements that have been certified by a third-party program that tests for substances prohibited in sport. USADA currently recognizes NSF Certified for Sport® as the program best suited for athletes to reduce the risk from supplements. For questions about specific products, substances, and methods, contact USADA’s Drug Reference Line at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (719) 785-2000, option 2.