A USA TODAY investigation finds that consumers buying Reumofan dietary supplements are trusting their lives to a company that uses fake addresses, lies about ingredients and may not even exist.
USA Today – GUADALAJARA, Mexico — A Mexican dietary supplement called Reumofan has gained a loyal following in the United States as a “100% natural” treatment for arthritis and joint pain. It’s supposedly made by a company called Riger Natural from ingredients such as shark cartilage, white willow and glucosamine, or so the labels say.
But consumers who buy Reumofan products are risking dangerous side effects and trusting their lives to a company that uses fake addresses, lies about the ingredients in its products and may not even exist, a USA TODAY investigation has found.
The newspaper set out to find Riger Natural and the people responsible for producing and selling the supplement, searching corporation records and visiting addresses in Mexico where it had been listed on the Web as having a lab. Those addresses are fake and there’s no evidence the company ever had facilities in the locations. Some Mexican retailers who once distributed the product say their contacts have simply disappeared. Even Mexican health authorities have been unable to track down the company.
Meanwhile, U.S. consumers — desperate to curb arthritis and joint pain — continue to buy Reumofan over the Internet and by crossing the border. They are running a high risk: Dozens of Reumofan users have suffered serious and sometimes life-threatening health effects after taking the pills, including liver injury, strokes and severe episodes of bleeding, according to federal records obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. Three reports involve deaths, though the full toll of those injured will never be known because most adverse events involving supplements and drugs are never reported to the FDA.
Lab tests by U.S. and Mexican health authorities have detected up to three powerful and potentially dangerous prescription drugs hidden in Reumofan products. While government officials have warned the public of this finding, they haven’t revealed anything about the company behind the products, other than its name. And nobody has been able to explain how a mysterious “M” logo identical to one used by a Mexican pharmaceutical company has ended up on at least some batches of the pills.
“We’ve made more than eight visits to addresses for which we’ve had intelligence and we’ve not located the business,” Alvaro Perez Vega, commissioner of health operations at Mexico’s federal commission for the protection against sanitary risk (Cofepris), said through an interpreter. The agency issued its first public warning about Reumofan in May 2012.
The FDA declined to discuss what it knows about Riger Natural.
“As an open investigation, there’s not much we can really say about who actually was responsible for putting the product into commerce,” said Daniel Fabricant, director of FDA’s dietary supplement division. The FDA has issued several warnings about the product since June 2012. Continue reading