Can I Sue for Injuries Sustained from Taking “Enhancement” Supplements?

Michael GrossmanAugust 03, 2016 8 minutes
All the product names used in this article are real. Truth is stranger than fiction.

You see them at gas stations all the time and scoff at their ridiculous names--"Rhino 7." "Super Samurai-X." "Mojo Risen." The products often feature a passionate couple or some "powerful" animal on the packaging, though sometimes they go a little off-book. For instance, here's the box for "Ginseng Power-X," which has a pair of oddly-shaped roots on the front.

Ginseng Power X
You can't make this stuff up.

These things shouldn't even be a blip on the radar, right? It's just hokum. Who sees a box of "Crazy Monkey" pills and decides that's the cure for what ails him? Is a bellyful of "Horny Goat Weed" and gingko biloba really that appealing?

Maybe so. As it turns out, these "herbal" supplements are a multimillion dollar industry. I assume the customer base largely stems from impulse buyers, curiosity, and/or guys who don't want the hassle or embarrassment of talking to a doctor about that kind of trouble.

Fun fact, though: it's not vitamin B and ginseng putting the spice back in your chili. It's dangerous, undeclared drugs that aren't included in the box's stated ingredients.

Who Makes These Products?

These supplements are made by a number of companies--often overseas--but many of their boxes only list their American distributors, which are all over the place. For instances, Super Samurai-X and Ginseng Power-X (as well as Tiger-X and Ninja-X) are distributed by SOS Telecom, Inc. out of Bayside, NY. Rhino 7 is released by TF Supplements (Houston, TX) and Premiere Sales Group (Santa Clarita, CA), and Mojo Risen comes from Eugene Oregon, Inc (which is puzzlingly located in Levittown, PA).

Because dietary supplements are subjected to less scrutiny by the FDA, these harmful products line store shelves without much pushback until enough adverse reports filter back in. It's usually around then that tests are performed and the curtain is pulled back to reveal some hidden ingredients.

Which Products Are Affected?

Many of these supplements have been cited over the past few years for containing unstated ingredients--most often analogues of drugs prescribed to treat erectile dysfunction.

Key examples of that include sildenafil, the active ingredient in Viagra, tadalafil (Cialis), and vardenafil (Levitra). Overseas manufacturers synthesize the compounds and slip them into the "all natural" ingredients listed on the boxes, then ship them internationally. They also make unstable derivatives of those compounds, many of which were rejected as unsafe by the American companies that made the name-brand drugs. Sometimes there's even brand-new stuff in there--combinations of things known to work on their own, like forcing together pieces from different jigsaw puzzles.

They don't stop there, though--testing has revealed antidepressant and even anti-diabetes compounds in some of these supplements. There is virtually no chance that testing was performed in those factories to check for drug interactions before all of that was crammed into a capsule. Anything that has the consequence of temporary stamina increases or sexual arousal, no matter how dangerous, has a chance of ending up in these supplements.

The safest bet is to believe that all of these products are affected because the unfortunate truth is that homeopathic, natural remedies for ED don't work. Those exotic ingredients are inert and prey on people's belief in holistic medicine.

Really, though--if you could chew the right leaf and get the job done, who would need all these pills?

How Widespread is the Problem?

It's difficult to pin that down specifically. Sales numbers for these distributors and their receiving vendors aren't publicly available. It's a good estimate that hundreds of millions of these pills are available on the market under a hundred different names, using several proprietary blends of useless herbal ingredients to mask dozens of combined pharmaceutical nightmares.

What Can Be Done About It?

Luckily, this one has a pretty simple answer: If you haven't bought the pills already, please don't buy that junk. If it has a goofy name like "Man Up Now" and it's just hanging off a hook in your neighborhood QuikStop, leave it be. It's not medicine. Vacate the aisle.

If you find yourself considering a purchase of "Lightning ROD" anyway, perhaps lured in by the majestic leopard or whatever on the box, please at least assume that there's something else (like bootleg Viagra) lurking behind the stated ingredients. Apply this knowledge to your own medical history:

  • Do you have heart problems? Viagra and similar drugs work as vasodilators, increasing blood flow, but this can seriously compromise people with cardiovascular problems. Users of nitrate-base medications like nitroglycerin should also be aware that combining things like sildenafil with their nitrates can lead to a catastrophic drop in blood pressure.
  • If you already take Viagra, Cialis, Levitra, or a similar medication for ED, and you think this might add a little extra on top of that, you'd be very wrong. Essentially, you'll either be mixing or doubling-down on your prescribed pill's dose by taking one of these, and that way lies disaster.
  • Priapism is rare but possible for users of these pills. The makers of the prescription drugs have the sense to warn users they could develop painful erections that last for hours, but you don't get that heads-up from "African Black Ant" because it's not supposed to have those ingredients.

If you did succumb to the allure of "Australia Kangaroo Essence" and have been experiencing adverse side effects, I strongly encourage you to seek a doctor's assistance. It may be embarrassing, but it could be a lot worse if you don't do anything. Doctors are trained to help, no matter where a patient's problems originate. Ask a proctologist for war stories some time; you'll see what I mean.

You are welcome to reach out to the distributors of these products for more information about them. Their contact information is often on the box. I caution you, however, to take your findings with a grain of salt. They're not likely to disclose harmful side effects if the manufacturer didn't bother to. When it hits the fan, they'll just shrug and say "It was bad when it got here; we're just responsible for getting it to stores."

The FDA also releases information to the public when a dangerous product is recalled. Due to the hazardous nature of these particular supplements, you can often find one or two of them featured on the FDA's website. They're only posted once something has gone wrong or a company issues a voluntary recall, which may not help you too much if you've already downed a few capsules of "Golden Night."

Can An Attorney Sue if Someone is Injured By Herbal Supplement Erection Pills?

To reiterate: It means that many companies are making and distributing "supplements" that contain potentially-dangerous, undisclosed ingredients.

Doctors and pharmacists are trained professionals; that's why people are supposed to go to them when they need to alter their body chemistry. The reason professionals should evaluate your needs and prescribe drugs accordingly is because of the potential for misuse or harmful drug interactions.

Unlike the medications prescribed or provided by those people, these supplements have not been approved by the FDA. While that may just sound like a missing certificate, it actually means that they haven't had the rigorous trials necessary to be declared safe for human consumption.

Because these pills are marketed as supplements, not drugs, they don't have the same tight regulations and testing before they're put into circulation. The FDA does what its resources permit, but millions of these dangerous products still make it to consumers' homes. They're only getting recalled or shut down once enough people have been damaged.

Thankfully, most of these problems are so far just projections. They are entirely possible, but for the most part there aren't many reports of grievous injuries. Recalls are initiated by the companies when the supplements are found to contain these dangerous drugs, and end-users aren't calling in serious life-threatening situations caused by these pills. That doesn't mean they aren't happening--keep in mind why they're buying these capsules and how that might affect who's willing to report problems.

I'm not wild about the government plodding into the free market. That's not how we roll. With that said, though, what the hell are these things doing floating around? They have no redemptive value. I guess there could be a helpful placebo/psychological factor at play, but medical evaluation has told us over and over that these pills' listed ingredients have negligible effects. They're nothing. If that's all that was in them and people wanted to buy them anyway, fine--it's a consumer's right to burn money however he sees fit. America invented the Pet Rock, after all.

Herbal supplements are just the non-government-inspected wrapper that these companies use to peddle drugs in.
Herbal supplements are just the non-government-inspected wrapper that these companies use to peddle drugs in.

When dangerous drugs are slipped into the mix, though, that escalates things pretty far into "not okay" territory. That's fraud, with seriously hazardous physical consequences to the people being duped. The FDA can't just step in swinging a stick because supplements don't require pre-approval before they hit the market, but when users of "Libigrow XXXtreme" are slipped a Mickey, it seems to me that's a good time for the law to get involved.

Dietary supplement companies aren't required to substantiate their claims about the role of their product, as long as they don't say it is meant to treat or cure a specific illness or disease. None of the supplements we're talking about today say they can cure sexual dysfunction; they all just say they'll "grant natural vigor" or "increase libido." The creation and release of supplements doesn't fall under FDA jurisdiction; that's how they can saturate the market in the first place. Right now, they're in a regulatory limbo that lets them put out whatever they please as long as their product doesn't make a medical claim or contain actual drugs.

They're not immune from the law, though. Given what they're doing, they could be pursued by the Department of Justice. The problem there is mostly that supplement bootleggers are pretty far down the DoJ's to-do list, given their current preoccupation with the War on *insert social ill/national security concern*.

In the event of injury, the only realistic course of action is a civil lawsuit. The manufacturers are overseas, but there is a principle known as stream of commerce that makes it possible to sue the distributors of the product as representatives of the manufacturers. Stream of commerce runs along these lines:

"If a corporation delivers its products into the stream of commerce with the expectation that its products will be purchased by consumers in the forum state, courts in the forum state may have adequate personal jurisdiction over the corporation in product liability cases. However, the actions of the defendant must be "voluntary and purposefully directed" towards the forum state."

To clarify that for our context, the distributors delivered its products to stores across the country "with the expectation that its products will be purchased by consumers." Why would they send "King of Romance" to a place if they didn't think it would sell? You can certainly qualify their actions as "voluntary and purposefully directed towards the forum state" as well--of course they deliberately shipped the products.

Victims who take these products and unknowingly consume some fairly dangerous substances in the process can sue the makers and distributors of these products under a theory of products liability. The goal of that would be to obtain financial compensation for things like medical bills and pain and suffering. The law is on your side when you're injured. It never hurts to find out what your options are, and a lawyer worth calling won't charge you for a consultation.

While we really enjoy the work we do as a firm in general, going after companies that think they've found some clever shortcut to avoiding liability is the reason our firm's drug-injury attorneys get out of bed in the morning.

I guess you could say the pursuit of justice is like "Super Bull 6000" for lawyers.