Even selling a placebo in place of an active ingredient is an issue. If consumers pay for St. John’s Wort, they should get St. John’s Wort. Falsely labeling medications - even herbal supplements - is a violation of consumer protection laws. So although there might not be health problems associated with putting a filler in place of St. John’s Wort, consumers purchased the herbal supplement believing the active ingredient would help them. Not putting the active ingredient in the supplement - making the herbal supplement essentially useless - is illegal.
But according to official reports, not all of the fillers, houseplants and other ingredients that contaminated the herbal supplements were harmless. Some are linked to allergic reactions; others are linked to gastrointestinal problems. Still others might interact badly with the consumer’s other medication, causing complications.
And there can be health effects. According to an article in the New York Times (2/3/15), in 2013 an outbreak of hepatitis was linked to tainted supplements. That outbreak affected 72 people and resulted in one death and three liver transplants. The cost of mislabeled supplements can be high.
New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman has sent letters to four retailers because their supplements were found to either not have ingredients included on the supplements’ label or have extra ingredients not included on the label. Companies that received the warning letters were GNC, Target, Wal-Mart and Walgreens.
READ MORE HERBAL SUPPLEMENTS LEGAL NEWS
According to reports, lawsuits have now been filed against the companies named by the attorney general. According to Daily Business Review (2/11/15), a lawsuit seeking class-action status was filed on behalf of Kelly Reyes against GNC, alleging certain herbal supplements were mislabeled as herbal when they contained little or no plant matter. Meanwhile, lawsuits have reportedly also been filed against Walgreens, with Plaintiff John Hollins requesting consolidation of 10 class actions against Walgreens for multidistrict litigation.
Target and Wal-Mart reportedly also face lawsuits seeking class-action status.
The Walgreens case is In re: Walgreens Herbal Supplements Litigation before the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation.