To hear the infomercials and social media pitches tell it, a glucosamine and chondroitin supplement called Supple is the answer to arthritis and fibromyalgia pain. Why, it's scientifically proven effective, the ads and posts exclaim.
But the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) took a more rigid view. “Companies need solid scientific evidence to back up the health claims they make,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Consumers should not have to take it on faith that products claiming to provide pain relief will live up to their billing.”
The FTC alleged that Wisconsin-based Supple, LLC and its principals, CEO Peter Apatow and his ex-wife Dr. Monita Poudyal, put on a modern medicine show presentation. Their infomercials featured Poudyal acting as medica show hostess and Apatow acting as her supposed guest.
Together, they portrayed Supple as a powerful all-natural drink that provides complete and long-lasting relief from joint pain; treats or relieves chronic or severe pain, including pain caused by all forms of arthritis and fibromyalgia; provides pain relief comparable to drugs or surgery; repairs cartilage; rebuilds joints and entire joint structures; and restores mobility and joint function to consumers with severe mobility restrictions.
A sales bonanza
It was great while it lasted. The FTC's complaint says the couple took in more than $150 million from sales of the supplement, which costs about $70 for a 24-day supply.
The FTC's complaint charged that the claims are false or not adequately substantiated. In addition, the FTC alleged that the defendants falsely claimed that Supple is clinically proven to eliminate joint pain.
The complaint also alleges that defendant Poudyal made unsubstantiated “expert endorsement” claims for the product, and falsely represented herself as an independent, impartial medical expert. The complaint further charges that the defendants failed to adequately disclose that Poudyal was married to Apatow during the time she was promoting the product.
In a settlement agreed to by the defendants, they are required to have scientific evidence to back up any future claims they make about pain relief, disease treatment, and health benefits, and are barred from misrepresenting the results of any scientific study. It also prohibits them from deceptively representing that Supple’s endorsers are independent and objective when those endorsers have a close personal or financial stake in the company’s product sales.
The settlement includes a $150 million judgment, most of which has been suspended based on the financial condition of Supple and Apatow.