Tag Archives: drug



In the last post we learned that FDA enforcement against supplement and nutraceutical makers based on their social media activity is no longer a hazy nightmare.  It has emerged into our recent reality.  What can supplement or natural products makers do to protect themselves from an FDA enforcement action while maintaining a presence in social media?   Below are some suggestions that apply to social media interactions as well as to more traditional sales and marketing activity. As always, please consult a regulatory attorney for more comprehensive advice, or contact the FDA for more information that relates to your specific product.

1. Develop a Social Media Policy

Your company lawyer (if you have one) may not see the many casual interactions on the company’s social media pages. However, your social media managers will, so it is important that they understand the boundaries of engagement with fans and how to handle and respond to fan comments. Include a reporting process for any potentially problematic interactions. While social media has memory, the employees who use it on behalf of your business should be trained on what to post, what to report internally, and what to delete. Even if your company does not use social media, your staff should be fully trained on how to respond to customer feedback and the appropriate use of testimonials.

2. Avoid Even the Appearance of Reliance on Risky Testimonials

The consuming public, and especially those who use social media, look for the opinions of others before deciding to buy. As such, testimonials present a double-edged sword. On the one hand, they make marketing easier, but in the marketing of regulated products FDA views them as “long-arm” extensions of product promotion. Therefore, testimonials should be carefully managed. A testimonial can’t be repeated if it makes statements on behalf of the company that your staff could not directly say without breaking promotional rules. General endorsements, such as “I love this product!” may not cause an FDA inquiry, but an endorsement that says “This product cured my impotence” is probably unwise.

3. Labeling, Labeling, Labeling.

On or off social media, the first and most basic step any company can take is to vet its labeling for compliance with FDA regulations. Your labeling includes the container, the carton and any inserts or standalone literature that you distribute which has information about the product. It also includes your web sites and any information you post on social media information pages. Therefore, all these should be reviewed to ensure there are no assertions about your product (referred to as claims) that cross the line into the “forbidden garden” of drug promotion. Avoid claims that state the product treats, cures, mitigates or prevents disease. That is sometimes harder to do than it may seem for a natural products company. What if you want to talk about the benefits of a well known natural product, like garlic? There may be rules or exceptions that apply to specific ingredients and to the ways in which you plan to use them. You may therefore want to consult a regulatory lawyer to get help in formulating your labeling strategy.

4. Be Clear About FDA Approval Status

Simply put, don’t claim that your product is “FDA Approved” if it isn’t. It doesn’t matter if your product contains an ingredient that has been approved under an FDA monograph, or is Generally Recognized As Safe for the same use for which it’s included in your product. If the public could read your product label and think that you received approval from the FDA to market the product that is actually in the container when in fact you haven’t, you probably won’t get away with it.

5. Don’t Overreach

Saying I can practice medicine because I watch medical dramas on television, no matter how many I’ve watched over the years, wouldn’t get me hired as a physician because I can’t show any proof of my skill as a doctor! By the same token, overselling your product by claiming it has attributes you can’t prove will attract problematic attention from regulators. In many cases, companies that received warning letters were also engaged in other behaviors that FDA probably considered too egregious to ignore. The agency’s job is to protect the public, especially vulnerable populations, from products that make promises they have not been clinically shown to satisfy. With this in mind, take a look at your product line. If your lineup includes products with claims that unabashedly recite drug-like action, such as “fights infections,” “cures diabetes” or “inhibits tumor growth,” please immediately consider a full labeling review. The overall posture of your company and product lines might make a big difference in whether or not you become a target for immediate enforcement action.

6. Be Prepared To Support Your Claims With Good Data

If you’ve taken the time to develop clinical studies and lab test results, you may be able to back up specific claims about your product, but that data by itself won’t exempt your company from the requirement that all products claiming to be “drugs” must first be approved. But maybe your product will fall into one of FDA’s many monograph categories, or it might be appropriate to initiate some dialogue with the agency to determine whether you have enough data to secure formal approval. You should absolutely vet your claims with a regulatory attorney or the FDA before you proceed.

7. Pay attention to your manufacturing and quality control

This is not so much a social media issue, but it does present an area in which we have seen an increase in regulatory activity.

Deanna Baxam is an attorney at Baxam Law Group, LLC.

This post is provided for information purposes only. It is not intended as a substitute for consultation with a qualified attorney.  Copyright 2014, Baxam Law Group, LLC. All rights reserved, please repost with attribution.
Baxam Law Group, LLC
Law For Today’s Business ®
Find us on the web at: www.baxamlaw.com
Facebook: Baxam Law Group
Twitter: @innovationlawyr


The “Like” With A Bite – FDA Warning Letter Puts Supplement Makers On High Alert

Companies have come to recognize social media as an important communication venue for   engaherbalcapsulesging consumers, who are spending more and more time online. In the more informal world of social media, product makers and retailers work hard at being interactive and approachable. It is generally accepted that exchanging dialogue with a company’s fans or audience on social media pages leads to a more positive overall perception of the company and its products.

The primary desired result of social media engagement is to build relationships that encourage brand loyalty. In building such relationships, using the language and communication style of the audience is one of those intangible yet incredibly important factors that contribute to social media success. Businesses looking to use social media keep these motivations top of mind. In practical application, companies will often hire social media managers to monitor their accounts on platforms such as Facebook® and Twitter®. The kinds of engagement that build relationships with an audience include “liking,” commenting on or re-posting (i.e. republishing) fan posts. On more traditional web sites, companies have included testimonials about services or products on blogs and product information pages.

Against this backdrop, the US Food and Drug Administration recently issued a warning letter to a Utah-based herbal supplement maker. The warning stated that the company, Zarbee’s, Inc., made promotional claims through social media interactions and postings which suggested their natural products were intended for use as drugs. The FDA’s definition of the term “drugs” includes any substance which is intended for treatment, cure, mitigation or prevention of disease, the disease in this case being coughs and colds.

According to the warning letter, the company endorsed or promoted personal testimonials from Facebook users on its page. As examples, the letter listed “Likes” and comments made by the company in response to page visitors:

  • “Liked” the comment: “…[product name] …I received the free sample…and…gave it to my daughter…I could not believe how well it worked! She was recently diagnosed with ADHD and put on medication…causing insomnia…”
  •  “Liked” the comment: “Love Zarbee’s this is the only medicine we use for our 2 year old. Colds and congestion clear up in 2 days.”
  • “Liked” the comment: “Received the sample for allergy relief and my husband had a terrible problem with allergies…he was very impressed on how well it worked for him…”
  • Commented, “Thank you for writing this!!! We love to hear that we have helped people…”
  • Commented, “… [W]e switched that item out with our [product name] which works great!!!”

FDA also noted posts the company had made on its own, and stated these posts provided additional evidence that the products were intended for use as drugs:

  • [Product name] extract…helps thin and loosen wet mucus coughs….
  • “Dark honey [an ingredient used in [product name] and [product name]… is clinically proven to calm coughs and sore throats in children…”.

It is not new in the world of regulatory law and science that statements which suggest a product acts like a drug will be reviewed as drug claims, and that such statements could call into question the approval status of the product as a drug. However, FDA’s observation that “liking” a third party’s comment on social media equates to an endorsement or promotion has not so far been a frequent occurrence. This letter highlights the risks for food, drug and cosmetics (and maybe even medical device) makers who use social media.  Most social media managers have used the Like button without giving much thought to government regulations. Under these circumstances, a random Like could cost the company a lot, yet not having a social media presence is also undesirable.

Once the FDA determines that a company has made claims that a product is intended for use as a drug or that it acts like a drug, the company is exposed to a threat of prosecution for selling an unapproved drug. Also, if the labeling for the product does not conform to the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act and the regulations, it could be deemed misbranded. FDA alleged that the Zarbee’s social media statements risked violations for being unapproved drugs and for misbranding. 

[A warning letter is a notice that requires a response and further action. Unless the threat to public health and safety is immediate and significant, a warning letter is usually the first action that FDA takes, and if sufficient remedial actions are taken other enforcement may be averted.]

What can supplement or natural products makers do to protect themselves from an enforcement action?   I’ll discuss that in Part II of this two-part blog post.

Deanna Baxam is an attorney at Baxam Law Group, LLC. This post is provided for information purposes only. It is not intended as a substitute for consultation with a qualified attorney.
Copyright 2014, Baxam Law Group, LLC. All rights reserved, you are free to re-post with attribution.
Baxam Law Group, LLC
Law For Today’s Business ®
Find us on the web at: http://www.baxamlaw.com
Facebook: Baxam Law Group
Twitter: @innovationlawyr