July 27, 2020 4:06 PM ET
https://www.npr.org/2020/07/27/89482544 ... d-pandemic
The federal government has repeatedly warned Americans about scammers trying to sell dietary supplements as a remedy for COVID-19 when medical experts say supplements are neither safe nor effective for treating the disease.
But if consumers type "coronavirus supplement" or "COVID supplement" into the search bar at Amazon.com, not only does the online retailer auto-complete the search, it serves up pages and pages of supplements without any warning about the scientific evidence.
And though the supplements may not directly claim to treat COVID-19, NPR has found more than 100 supplements listed for sale on Amazon that make unsubstantiated and potentially illegal claims that they can fight viruses. They include products sold by a company recently sued by the Department of Justice over fraud allegations related to COVID-19.
The products were sold by third parties, rather than Amazon, though the company receives a cut of the sales. Amazon also designated several of the products "Amazon's Choice," which "recommends highly rated, well-priced products," according to the company.
Federal law, as well as Amazon's own internal policies, generally prohibit supplements from claiming they can prevent or treat any virus or specific disease.
Amazon says that safety is a "top priority" and that its "dedicated global team of compliance specialists" use sophisticated technology to block unsafe and illegal products from being sold on its marketplace. When those systems fail to catch offending products, Amazon says it takes swift action as soon as it hears from concerned consumer groups or unhappy customers. "When we receive these reports, we move quickly to protect customers, remove unsafe products from our store, and investigate," Amazon insists.
Yet when Amazon was alerted to the products making unsubstantiated claims — first by a public health watchdog group and later by NPR — the company waited several weeks before removing them from its site.
Though the products on Amazon do not specifically claim to treat COVID-19, public health experts have raised concerns that Amazon's failure to police the site for illegal claims may put Americans at greater risk during the pandemic.
"Besides being a waste of money," said Dr. Peter Lurie, a former associate commissioner at the Food and Drug Administration and the president of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, or CSPI, the public health watchdog that first alerted Amazon to the problem, "these products may harm consumers if they decide to opt for a supplement in favor of the things we know that actually help, like hand washing, maintaining social distance, wearing personal protective equipment or seeking real medical treatment when sick."
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