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Public Safety and Fraud During the COVID-19 Outbreak: Will Congress Take Action?

Yesterday, we blogged on how scammers are trying to monetize on the COVID-19 health crisis for their personal gain. Though the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) issued a consumer update yesterday saying that there is still no approved vaccine or drug to prevent or treat this disease, companies have continued to market products that claim to prevent, treat, or even cure COVID-19 in an attempt to “help” or profit from distressed, vulnerable Americans. While the FDA is working tirelessly to review possible vaccines, treatments, and cures, Americans should avoid endangering their health or lives by self-medicating. Per the FDA, self-medicating with any new product on the shelf (real or virtual) could not only lead to adverse effects but also could interfere with crucial medications.

For instance, the FDA emphasized that no one should be ingesting chloroquine phosphate (sold as a treatment for parasites in aquarium fish), as it has already led to grave adverse effects in people. Products made for veterinary use or for “research use only” could result in severe illness or death when ingested by humans. Self-medicating is also a poor choice because it could delay appropriate medical treatment; the same principle applies to at-home test kits for the SAR-CoV-2 virus because nothing like that has been proven effective or authorized by the FDA yet.

Unfortunately, scammers committing fraud is a common fallout of any public tragedy, and therefore Congress has dealt with similar issues in the past. We are closely monitoring whether Congress will take specific actions on these increasingly prevalent issues in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Yesterday, our colleagues at ML Strategies highlighted certain past actions of Congress (i.e., related to the opioid crisis) and what steps Congress may consider to strengthen consumer protection agencies’ powers to address current COVID-19 related fraud. They suggest that Congress may consider allowing state attorneys general to enforce any federal statute to counteract misleading and deceptive behavior by fraudsters. As specific legislative or administrative actions take shape, we will continue to keep you informed of these important changes.

Government oversight must remain a true priority in these confusing, uncertain times. For the time being, however, consumers like you can assist the FDA in detecting and addressing fraud by submitting reports to FDA’s Health Fraud Program or emailing the Office of Criminal Investigations at [email protected].

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