It was a harrowing holiday season for more than 3,000 patients who were treated at a New Jersey surgical center after they were told they may have been exposed to HIV and hepatitis at the facility.
People who underwent surgery at the HealthPlus Surgery Center in Saddle Brook, New Jersey, between January 1, 2018, and September 7, 2018, are being encouraged to be tested for HIV, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C. This is because “deficiencies in infection control” in the center’s cleaning and medication injection processes put them at risk.
As of December 26, 3,778 patients treated at HealthPlus had requested to take a blood test. The center’s administrator, Betty McCabe, said in a statement that no infections or illnesses had been reported thus far.
All 3 illnesses cause no symptoms at first, and acute symptoms can easily be mistaken for the flu or cold if they appear. There is currently no cure for AIDS, the disease caused by the HIV virus, but it can be managed with lifelong antiviral medications. Hepatitis B and C can become chronic silent infections. Left untreated, the illnesses can permanently damage the liver and lead to cancer. 
HealthPlus Surgery Center was shut down in September after the New Jersey Department of Health found that employees were not following proper sterile processing procedures or regulations for the dispensing or storage of medication. The center reopened September 28. 
“We have taken this issue very seriously. The New Jersey Department of Health’s move to close the facility provided an opportunity to focus more intently on quality, safety, and a consistent adherence to sound policies and procedures.”
The center said it will cover the blood tests free of charge. Patients can visit specific locations in New York and New Jersey to obtain a test provided by the center, or they can visit their own doctor for the test, though doing so may require them to pay a copay or deductible. However, the center will reimburse patients who choose to get tested by their personal physician. 
When you buy supplements, you expect them to contain the advertised ingredients, right? And I’m sure you certainly don’t expect them to contain any pharmaceuticals, such as Viagra. But a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) analysis published in JAMA Network Open reveals that hundreds of dietary supplements actually contain pharmaceutical drugs. And yes, that includes Viagra, a drug that treats erectile dysfunction (ED). 
Researchers found unapproved and potentially dangerous drugs in 746 dietary supplements. The majority contained sexual enhancement drugs, but some contained weight-loss or muscle-growth drugs.
The team reviewed an FDA database of contaminated supplements from 2007 to 2016, and most of them tested positive for sildenafil, a.k.a., Viagra, as well as other ED drugs in sexual enhancement products. Additionally, the analysis found sibutramine and the laxative phenolphthalein, both banned by the FDA, in weight-loss supplements; and steroids or their analogues in muscle-building products.
Some of the Shocking Findings
Of the 746 supplements:
80% were contaminated by 1 pharmaceutical.
20% contained at least 2 pharmaceuticals.
2 of the supplements contained 6 unapproved pharmaceuticals.
One supplement contained a drug that increases blood pressure and another drug that lowers it.
However, fewer than half of the products were recalled. What’s more, 97.6% of the pharmaceuticals found in the products weren’t listed on the products’ labels.  
The authors of the report state that the presence of unknown pharmaceuticals in supplements “poses a serious public health risk.” Take Viagra, for instance. The erectile dysfunction medication can cause severe side effects, such as priapism (a painful, long-lasting erection), sudden hearing loss, increased intraocular (eye) pressure, heart arrhythmias, and even heart attack.  
According to Medical News Today, sildenafil is particularly dangerous for men who:
Take nitric oxide donors, nitrates, and organic nitrites;
Are advised to avoid sexual intercourse because of cardiovascular risk factors;
Have severe liver impairment;
Have kidney disease;
Have hypotension (low blood pressure);
Have had a heart attack or stroke, and
Have hereditary degenerative retinal disorders.
More than 50% of the U.S. population takes dietary supplements, believing them to be carefully regulated and accurately labeled. In reality, the FDA has little to do with supplements, unless it comes to light that something is wrong with them.
The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 dictates that dietary supplements are regulated as food. That means the products are not subjected to the same premarket safety and effectiveness testing as pharmaceutical drugs.
Dr. Pieter Cohen, a general internist at Cambridge Health Alliance in Somerville, Massachusetts, wrote in a commentary accompanying the study: 
“The agency’s failure to aggressively use all available tools to remove pharmaceutically adulterated supplements from commerce leaves consumers’ health at risk.”
However, Daniel Fabricant, president of the Natural Products Association, a supplement industry trade group, says that sexual enhancement, weight-loss, and muscle-building products shouldn’t fall into the same category as vitamins and other traditional dietary supplements. The contaminated products found in the FDA database are “fringe products” made by unscrupulous manufacturers that are sold online or in convenience stores. 
As a general rule of thumb, if you wouldn’t eat gas station sushi, you shouldn’t take gas station supplements.
“We’re completely on the FDA’s side here. This is someone spiking the product. They’re saying it’s a supplement. It’s not a supplement in any way, shape, or form.”
He said he hopes the FDA will bring misdemeanor charges against companies that add pharmaceuticals to their so-called supplements.
We have to agree, especially considering previous research by Cohen and his colleagues shows that adulterated supplements continue to be sold in stores even after they’ve been recalled. They were left on the market possibly due to the FDA’s inability to reach manufacturers to get them to issue a recall. It is also possible that some of the companies simply denied the agency’s request to recall their products. 
Asleep at the Wheel
Though the FDA does not regulate supplements, the agency is not powerless to stop shady companies that manufacture adulterated products. The health watchdog can send companies warning letters, visit factories, and issue mandatory recalls.
The study found, however, that the FDA rarely dips into its bag of tricks to stop the sale of potentially-dangerous products. Out of the 146 companies involved in the manufacturing of the tainted supplements, the FDA issued just 7 warning letters. No mandatory recalls were ordered.
“There’s just no way to interpret this other than the FDA is simply not doing its job.”
A viable solution to the problem would be for Congress to change dietary-supplement regulations to force companies to register supplements with the FDA before they can sell them. That would require each supplement to have an identifying registration code that would allow the FDA to know exactly what supplements are being sold in the United States. If a supplement was found to be tainted, the agency could “deactivate” the code so customers couldn’t buy it, Cohen explained.
Fracking giant Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. is suing Dimock, Pennsylvania resident Ray Kemble and his attorneys for $5 million after Kemble accused the gas driller of polluting residential wells in Pennsylvania. Cabot alleges that Kemble and his lawyers extorted the company through a “frivolous” lawsuit. 
In 2013, an EPA official wrote in an internal report that fracking conducted by Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. caused methane to leak into domestic water wells in Dimock, completely contradicting Cabot’s assessment, which said the methane gas was naturally occurring. 
State regulators initially got involved in 2010 and said Cabot’s drilling contaminated local wells, though a subsequent EPA investigation in 2012 found the water posed no health risks to Dimock residents.
Though the 2013 report didn’t exactly contract the EPA’s finding that the water was safe to use, it did show that at least one official determined that Cabot’s work damaged water wells.
Now, Cabot is suing Kemble, claiming that his efforts to garner media attention to his polluted well “harmed” the company. The energy company alleges in the suit that Kemble’s actions breached a 2012 settlement that was part of an ongoing federal class action lawsuit over Dimock’s water quality.
Kemble says that even now his water “burns the back of your throat, makes you gag, makes you want to puke.” According to the outspoken Pennsylvanian, who, along with other community members, was featured in the 2010 documentary “Gasland,” said that things only got worse after Cabot fracked 3 wells near his house. 
In August 2017, scientists from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), a public health agency, again tested the water at Kemble’s home and about 2 dozen other houses.
A report released by the ATSDR in 2016 found contamination in some of Dimock’s well-water, but the tests did not look at what was casing the contamination. 
George Stark, Cabot’s director of external affairs, said of the lawsuit:
“Cabot will protect its rights and pursue justice against those who irresponsibly and maliciously abuse the legal system.” 
In April 2017, Kemble and his lawyers filed a federal lawsuit accusing Cabot of continuing to pollute Kemble’s water supply. However, the suit was withdrawn 2 months later. 
According to Cabot, the claims Kemble made in the lawsuit were the subject of a 2012 settlement between the driller and dozens of Dimock residents – including Kemble – and were barred by the statute of limitations. Cabot claims in the lawsuit that Kemble had breached the 2012 settlement by publicly discussing the company and the alleged damage it did to his water supply.
In 2016, some of Kemble’s neighbors, who had refused to sign a settlement agreement with Cabot, were awarded $4.2 million by a jury. However, in March 2017, that ruling was overturned. 
The judge overseeing the case ordered a new trial.
Two weeks later, Kemble filed his lawsuit against Cabot.