On Capitol Hill, lawmakers who have been on opposite sides of a long-running battle have now come together on a bill that would require reporting of deaths or other ill effects linked to supplements and over-the-counter medications.
The bill would require that reports be filed to the Food and Drug Administration within 15 days about what it calls "serious adverse events." If defines those as death, hospitalization, or what it calls a significant disability or incapacity, among other things.
Utah Republican Senator Orrin Hatch says the premise is simple. He is a longtime backer of the diet supplement industry — which has a major presence in his state — and is a well-known consumer of supplements, as well. He wrote the 1994 law that specifically exempted makers of diet supplements from having to prove to the FDA that they are safe and effective.
So for him to be advocating what amounts to increased government regulation is significant.
But even more surprising is that Hatch unveiled the bill Wednesday with Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin, one of the most outspoken opponents of the 1994 law. Durbin helped lead the charge against the supplement ephedra, which the FDA outlawed two years ago.
Durbin has made no secret of the fact that he'd like supplement makers to have to meet the same standards for safety and effectiveness as makers of prescription drugs. But he says that reporting adverse events is an important first step, as he discovered during his own investigation of companies that sold products that contain ephedra.
Durbin was also quick to add that he thinks the bill will not only be good for consumers, but for the supplement industry, as well.
The supplement industry appears to agree.
"We represent a class of goods that has a remarkable safety record," says Michael McGuffin, president of the American Herbal Products Association. "But we're also really a mature industry, and we think it's time to take on this responsibility. I'm just thrilled that we've gotten to this point."
Consumer groups, which have long been critical of the government's lack of oversight over supplements, are also backing the bill. That improves its chances of getting signed into law this year.