Alison Young, USA TODAY
The Drug Enforcement Administration could pursue a criminal investigation in cases where dietary supplements are found to be spiked with illegal drugs or compounds similar to them, a spokesman for the DEA confirmed Thursday.
The DEA was asked to comment on reports this week that scientists had found an analog - or chemical cousin - of methamphetamine in two popular sports supplements: Craze, a pre-workout drink mix, and Detonate, a weight-loss supplement in pill form.
"Anytime there's a controlled substance or an analog of a controlled substance, that becomes a criminal issue," DEA spokesman Rusty Payne said.
"If designer drugs are now making their way into dietary supplements across the world, that's obviously dangerous and very scary," Payne said. "I'd hate to think people are playing Russian roulette with something you're buying over the counter."
Payne said he could not comment on whether the DEA is investigating the two supplements, which have received widespread media coverage after the publication Monday of a scientific journal article by a team of scientists from Harvard, the Michigan-based testing organization NSF International and a lab in the Netherlands on their findings of the meth-like compound in Craze. NSF International separately announced it had found the same compound in Detonate.
Driven Sports, which makes Craze, has declined interview requests, but in a blog post on its website says the scientists' tests on its product are flawed. "Should the DEA choose to investigate this matter, we will, of course, cooperate fully," Driven Sports attorney Marc Ullman said in an e-mail late Thursday. "We believe that the obvious deficiencies in the NSF testing make this unlikely."
Officials at Gaspari Nutrition, which makes the weight-loss supplement Detonate, said the company "maintains a strict policy in assuring public safety" and stopped distribution of Detonate to customers in August. "We have been awaiting conclusive testing results from an independent lab that address the concerns that are referred to in your articles," Mike Schreck, Gaspari's chief operating officer, said in an e-mail.
Driven Sports has said it stopped producing Craze "several" months ago in the wake of media coverage. Gaspari Nutrition has removed Detonate from its website. However, both products have remained for sale in recent weeks online and in some supplement stores.
The Food and Drug Administration, which oversees dietary supplements, also said it couldn't comment on whether the agency is investigating Craze and Detonate.
"With any ingredient, we of course look to the DEA and their science," said Daniel Fabricant, director of the FDA's dietary supplement division. "If they determine something is an analog, our law ties directly into that." If an analog of a controlled substance is in a product sold as a dietary supplement, it is not legally a dietary supplement, he said.
Fabricant noted that he told USA TODAY in an interview earlier this year that the FDA is concerned about dietary supplements that are being put on the market with ingredients called phenylethylamines.
This class of chemicals is wide ranging, scientists say, to include compounds as varied as those naturally found in chocolate to others that are synthetically produced illicit drugs. "We were worried about the phenylethylamine du jour, and we still are," Fabricant said Thursday. "We continue to be concerned about these phenylethylamine products coming to market."
There is the potential for such compounds to have effects on the heart, Fabricant said.
Craze and Detonate list dendrobium orchid extract on their labels and claim the plant extract it is the natural source of phenylethylamines in their products. However the authors of Monday's journal article said an extensive search of scientific literature finds no evidence that the compounds listed on Craze's label have been documented in dendrobium.
Driven Sports has not responded to USA TODAY's repeated requests for any documentation the company has showing the compounds claimed on Craze's label are found in dendrobium.
In July, a USA TODAY investigation revealed that a top official at Driven Sports is a convicted felon who has a history of putting risky products on the market, and that tests of Craze by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency and a Swedish forensic lab had found amphetamine-like compounds in the pre-workout powder.
On Monday, the team of scientists from the U.S. and the Netherlands published their article in the peer reviewed scientific journal Drug Testing and Analysis saying tests on samples of Craze from three separate lots found a a single serving of Craze delivers 21 mg to 35 mg of a methamphetamine analog called N,alpha-diethylphenylethylamine, or N,alpha-DEPEA.
In August, another team of scientists - from the National Forensic Service in South Korea and the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment in the Netherlands - published an article in a journal of the Japanese Association of Forensic Toxicology saying they also had found the same meth-like compound in samples of Craze.
Driven Sports says that tests it has commissioned on Craze by Avomeen Analytical Services in Ann Arbor, Mich., prove that Craze does not contain this methamphetamine analog, or any other amphetamine-like compound. The company has posted tests on its website and sent copies of test results to USA TODAY. However Driven Sports so far has not authorized Avomeen to discuss its results with the newspaper.
Driven Sports on its website says its tests indicate the presence of "n-beta DEPEA" in Craze and that while it's related to the "alpha" compound found by the authors of the two journal articles, it's a "very different substance" that can be difficult to distinguish without proper methodology.
The authors of Monday's journal article said they stand behind their results and that Driven Sports is trying to confuse the public by "throwing out new chemical names."
In the meantime, a supplement industry group is seeking to take a closer look at both sets of tests: Those that found the meth-like compound, and those that didn't find it. Several of the groups involved in the controversy are members of the American Herbal Products Association: Driven Sports, Gaspari Nutrition and NSF International, which does testing for the supplement industry.
AHPA President Michael McGuffin, in an e-mailed statement, said the association has requested NSF International and Driven Sports "to provide their analytical data for review of the quality of the various analytical methods."
To read more articles in the Supplement Shell Game series, go to: supplements.usatoday.com
To report an adverse event involving a dietary supplement, call the FDA's Medwatch program at: 800-332-1088, or go to the FDA's website.