Shoot First - Ask Questions Later

Shoot First–Ask Questions Later

oes Senator John McCain (R–Ariz.) really want to protect consumers? On October 28, the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, chaired by McCain, inquired into the “effectiveness” of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA). The committee’s conclusions weren’t exactly breathtaking, unless you consider the possible asphyxiation of DSHEA.

Speaking to FDA’s John Taylor about the new designer steroid THG (tetrahydrogestrinone) currently in the press, McCain said, “Why don’t we ban these things to prevent them from coming to market? [Because once] one thing is banned, some smart fellow will come up with another, harder-to-detect ingredient. . . . How many lives are destroyed before you decide they will be banned? Seems to me that we’ve reversed the procedure here. Once it’s on the market, we have to go through a disapproval process.”

Whoa! The FDA has more than enough power to deal with THG. But what do designer steroids have to do with dietary supplements? THG does not exist naturally in the body, nor is it found in nature. It is a purely synthetic “designer” steroid derived by simple chemical modification from another anabolic steroid that is explicitly banned by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. It was designed to prevent detection through existing athletic drug testing. But if it is not a supplement, why is McCain talking about it in the midst of an inquiry into dietary supplements?

The truth is that THG is a ruse, a deceptive tactical maneuver to gather sympathy and support for the goals of all regulators: power. It has much in common with the ephedra hysteria—the flames of which have been fanned outrageously and unjustly by politicians—which has been used by regulators to get a solid foothold in the door of the supplement industry. Regulators, politicians, and bureaucrats all need power in order to regulate. But no one will give it to them unless there’s an emergency, unless they’re frightened.

“War is the health of the State,” wrote social philosopher Randolph Bourne during World War I. By this, Bourne meant that government needs an excuse to accrue power to itself and to become “healthy.” And the bigger the emergency, the bigger the accumulation—and the healthier the State becomes, of course, at the expense of its victims. Bureaucrats love power. Of course, they say that they’re trying to save lives, but why have they not raised their ire about prescription drugs?

The FDA can neither guarantee that a drug will produce the results claimed nor that the drug will even be safe. In 1997, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published a study finding that upwards of 140,000 deaths occur every year when FDA-approved drugs are prescribed or administered, whether these drugs are overseen by medical professionals in hospitals or at home under the instructional standards established by the FDA. So if McCain and his ilk were really trying to save lives, they’d do something about that.

Yet as far as we know, nothing has been done to prevent the legal-drug fiasco exposed by the JAMA study written nearly seven years ago. Nor has there been an increased level of adverse-event reporting, another hot topic of the McCain inquiry, to expose the daily tragedy. Why? The drug industry is one of the most heavily regulated industries in the country and, interestingly, one of the wealthiest. According to Common Cause, the drug industry has pumped more than a half billion dollars into efforts to advance their legislative agenda; that’s at least $558 million in political contributions, lobbying, and advertising campaigns. The result? The drug companies end up with the best of both worlds: a $400 billion government program, in the form of prescription drug payments to Medicare recipients, to enable more of the elderly to afford their prescription drugs, and a hands-off policy with regard to the skyrocketing cost of those medications.

Not to be outdone by McCain, Senator Orrin Hatch (R–Utah), one of the original sponsors of DSHEA, argued that the FDA be given at least $200 million so that they could properly implement DSHEA. Senator Richard Durbin (D–Ill.), the sponsor of a bill (SB 722) to alter DSHEA, beat the drum for forcing supplement companies to prove their products safe and effective, without any apparent concern that the cost of that kind of approval would bankrupt the industry. Then there was Charles Bell, with Consumers Union, who agreed with the ban mentality while supporting SB 722. Finally, supposedly representing the supplement industry, David Seckman, CEO of the National Nutritional Foods Association, also supported bans, although, to his credit, he thought the FDA already had enough power. Nevertheless, he was in agreement with Hatch that the FDA should be given adequate funding to implement DSHEA.

So there you have it. More control, more power, more money. What about innovation? What about the immense dissatisfaction of the American public with things as they are in the super-regulated pharmaceutical industry? In this light, all the pretenses of the desire to save lives ring hollow. And by the way, what about the lives that have been saved by the availability of nutritional supplements—that have added years to our lives and life to our years—that don’t have the toxic effects of many drugs? What about the good that nutritional supplements have done simply by not laying the minefields of legal drugs that the JAMA article found insidiously related to business as usual in the pharmaco-land? If the kind of pre-approval, ban-it-before-it-moves, highly regulated, “shoot-first-ask-questions-later” world proposed by McCain and his colleagues comes into existence, we will all be the poorer in terms of our health, and we will also be much more likely to be dead.

Yours for nutritional liberty,

Will Block


Will Block is the publisher and editorial director of Life Enhancement magazine.

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