June 2, 2005 – – Since Viagra exploded in the market eight years ago, it’s almost impossible to watch TV without seeing commercials for drugs designed to enhance a man’s sexual experience.
The popularity of these pharmaceuticals has spawned a whole new line of natural male enhancement products. And they’re among the top-selling products in the $ 26 billion herbal supplement – or as the manufacturers call them, nutraceutical – industry.
Many of these products suggest extraordinary results. For example, four years ago Berkeley Nutraceuticals, the biggest seller of male enhancement pills, said their product Enzyte would increase your penis by up to 41%.
Recently, the company has moderated these claims and simply promises firmer, fuller, and better quality erections.
Consumer advocate Dr Sydney Wolfe says that when it comes to the growing industry of natural male enhancement products, safety is unknown and effectiveness is unproven. “You have an industry that can just invent something, grind up roots, put them in a bottle, [and] sell it, ”said Wolfe, author of“ Best Pills, Worst Pills ”.
The value of marketing
“Primetime Live” tested some Enzytes it purchased in March. The ingredients listed in the product packaging were found in the pills, including ginseng root, ginko biloba, and saw palmetto cabbage.
Supplement makers say the product’s ingredients have been used for centuries to improve sex, but Dr Franklin Lowe, a leading New York City urologist, has expressed serious doubts whether any of them they could improve male sexuality.
“It’s very enticing. It’s good marketing. But to my knowledge, there is no clinical evidence to support any of these claims,” he said.
The maker of Enzyte told ABC News that it recently changed the formulation and the product continues to perform as advertised.
Yet the popularity of these products created millionaires overnight, like Michael Consoli and his nephew Vincent Passafiume, whose company CP Direct sold a male enhancement product called “Longitude.”
“They paid $ 2 [for] a bottle of pills they were selling for $ 40. And they were selling a lot of it, “said Larry Warfield, an accountant who helped Arizona investigate a company called CP Direct, which sold” Longitude, “a male activator.
Consoli and Passafiume found their recipe on the Internet, but their real secret ingredient was advertising. They guaranteed that their pill would increase penis size by 26% in just 12 weeks.
They were spending over a million dollars a month on advertising, and in just a year, CP Direct was selling everything from “Sature” – The Guaranteed to Make You Grow Up, to “Full and Firm,” a promising pill. to enlarge women’s breasts.
CP Direct had no scientific proof that its products actually worked, but it still generated $ 75 million in revenue.
It seems the only thing that was proven to increase Longitude was the company’s bank account. Consoli and Passafiume bought more than a dozen exotic cars and gold-plated furniture from 17 homes in different states – all paid for by their pills.
Freed from regulation
Today, there are dozens of companies that sell male sexual enhancement pills.
Although they sell items that look like drugs and suggest powerful results, supplement makers – unlike drug makers – are under no obligation to prove the efficacy or safety of their products.
In 1994, Congress passed the Dietary Supplements Health and Education Act, after industry lobbied for it. He wanted to rule out the ability of the FDA to require information on adverse drug reactions and safety and efficacy testing, Wolfe said.
Utah Senator Orrin Hatch supported the law. Herbal supplements are a $ 3 billion industry in her state, and Hatch has received more than $ 140,000 in donations from supplement manufacturers since the law was passed. Lobbying firms associated with her son have made millions through the industry.
“There is no doubt that you are much better off taking dietary supplements if you are taking quality ones,” Hatch said.
Hatch declined calls for “Primetime,” but when co-host Chris Cuomo caught up with him on Capitol Hill, he seemed unsure of the connection.
“My son’s outfit is doing government business for the dietary supplement companies,” he said. “But, I don’t even know to be honest with you. I don’t know who their customers are.”
In fact, customers of companies associated with Hatch’s son include more than a dozen herbal supplement manufacturers, with billings in excess of $ 2 million.
“It is difficult to point to anything in this law that could be interpreted as a benefit to anyone other than people like Senator Hatch,” Wolfe said.
Explosive growth of the industry
Before the law was passed, there were 4,000 herbal supplements. There are now over 30,000.
Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard said it shouldn’t be surprising that CP Direct’s penis pills have been such big sellers.
“Hope is eternal,” he said. “Maybe Americans believe too much in pills. Maybe they think they can change their lives with something in a bottle. I don’t know, but they’ve definitely been exploited by someone and they should have been protected in this case. “
In the case of Consoli and Passafiume, they were charged with fraud and money laundering. They pleaded guilty and served three months in prison.
Goddard says there is no doubt the two knew what they were doing and that they were part of a scam.
“As long as people are willing to believe extravagant claims without any backup,” he said. “Sadly, people like this will continue to make money with suckers.”