An Interview with Federal Trade Commission Senior Attorney Mamie Kresses about Cracking Down on “Miracle Cures” for Opioid Addiction
While we wish it weren’t so, there is no easy cure for opioid addiction. Unfortunately, in the face of our nation’s opioid epidemic, many opportunistic entities have popped up trying to peddle products that offer a quick fix to this chronic disease. Following a rise in the online advertising of fraudulent “miracle cures” for opioid withdrawal and addiction, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) partnered with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to put these misleading and manipulative marketers on notice. To learn more, we spoke with Mamie Kresses, a senior attorney in the FTC’s Division of Advertising Practices.
The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA): What are the so-called “miracle cures” for opioid addiction being advertised online?
Mamie Kresses (MK): We have seen a lot of advertising of products that claim to either treat the symptoms of withdrawal and/or to help people overcome their addiction long-term. Most of these products are vitamins, minerals, or herbal blends that claim to help you get through withdrawal, and by virtue of doing that, help you kick your dependence more permanently.
CASA: Is there any truth to the claims these products make?
MK: We have worked with experts in the field of addiction medicine and they have told us there is no evidence that these herbal blends will help you overcome the symptoms of withdrawal and there is certainly no evidence they will help you overcome addiction.
CASA: What is the harm in these products?
MK: Foregoing the opportunity to get a proven treatment, such as medication-assisted treatment, for something that is totally untested and unproven is a lost opportunity for real help and is potentially dangerous. You cannot advertise a product unless it has been tested in a competent and reliable scientific fashion. Especially a product claiming to treat a serious disease such as opioid use disorder.
CASA: What are you doing to help stop this fraudulent advertising?
MK: In a joint project between the FTC and FDA, we have sent warning letters to 11 companies we believe are marketing unproven treatments for opioid addiction. We hope the effect of these letters is to get these advertisements taken down and these products off the market and to reduce the clutter for those who are looking for real help. The FTC also partnered with Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to publicize hotline resources for seeking reputable treatment options across the country.
CASA: Have you heard back from any of the companies that received letters?
MK: Yes, we have received responses. We are continuing to monitor that space and have seen many deceptive claims removed from the internet. Certainly not all of them, but I think you would also find that if you were to search for the products, some of them are no longer available for sale. I think there has been a movement based on the letters to correct the market in some regards.
To learn more about avoiding products misleadingly advertised as treatments for opioid withdrawal or addiction, check out this resource created by the FTC in partnership with SAMHSA: Getting the Right Help for Opioid Dependence or Withdrawal.
To make a complaint about a product making deceptive or unproven claims visit the FTC complaint assistant website.
And remember, a cure for addiction does not yet exist, so anything touted as such is misleading and dangerous. Addiction is a very complex disease and, although there are interventions and treatments that can reduce the symptoms and help people lead normal healthy lives, there is no simple quick fix.