LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
There's also news this week on diet supplements. Capitol Hill lawmakers who come on opposite sides of a long-running battle have come together on a new bill.
It would require that deaths or other ill-effects linked to supplements and over the counter medications be reported. NPR's Julie Rovner has more.
JULIE ROVNER reporting:
The bill would require that reports be filed to the Food and Drug Administration within 15 days about what it calls quote "serious adverse events." It 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.
Senator ORRIN HATCH (Republican, Utah): Mandating a system to provide the government with information about adverse events associated with the two types of FDA regulated products: dietary supplements and over the counter drugs.
ROVNER: Hatch is a long-time backer of the diet supplement industry, which has a major presence in his state, and a well-known consumer of supplements as well. And he wrote the 1994 law that specifically exempted makers of diet supplements from having to prove to the FDA that they're 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 yesterday 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 and Hatch joked about their rivalry at a news conference.
Senator DICK DURBIN (Democrat, Illinois): He and I watch each other take vitamins, and he smiles every time he sees me take a vitamin, so...
(Soundbite of laughter)
Sen. HATCH: I have high hopes for him.
(Soundbite of laughter)
ROVNER: 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 with Ephedra.
Sen. DURBIN: Metabolife, for example, which set at one point that they had no adverse event reports. Once a lawsuit was filed and subpoenas were issued, they turned over thousands of reports which had not been disclosed to the federal government.
ROVNER: 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.
Sen. DURBIN: Because those who are not playing by the rules, those who may be selling products that don't meet the standards that we find acceptable in America, those who are selling dangerous products, are going to have to face the music. That's what this legislation is all about.
ROVNER: The supplement industry appears to agree. Michael McGuffin is president of the American Herbal Products Association.
Mr. MICHAEL MCGUFFIN (President, American Herbal Products Association): We represent a class of goods that has a remarkable safety record, but we're also, we're really a mature industry. And we think its time to take on this responsibility. I'm just thrilled that we've gotten to this point.
ROVNER: Consumer groups, which have long been critical of the government's lack of oversight over supplements, are also backing the bill. That makes its chances of getting signed into law this year pretty good.
Julie Rovner, NPR News, Washington.
WERTHEIMER: You can find the latest research news on other vitamins at npr.org/yourhealth.
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