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ADDTabz ‘study drug’ ad: There’s a learning curve at the Harvard Crimson

Harvard’s student newspaper garnered criticism this week for hosting an ad on its website for an “Adderall alternative,” aimed at students seeking a study aid from a bottle. The Harvard Crimson, which pulled the ad after it caught the attention of some bloggers, had been plugging ADDTabz, a product from Gentech Pharmaceutical that claims it is designed to “improve cognitive abilities such as memory, concentration, problem solving and critical thinking.” It’s even referred to as a “smart drug” or “study drug” on the Gentech website.

News outlets that have reported on the Crimson’s actions are right to wonder how a product billed as an Adderall alternative differs from the prescription attention-disorder drug. In the case of ADDTabz, it’s potentially dangerous. ADDTabz has been found to contain DMAA, an unapproved dietary supplement ingredient that was linked to the deaths of two US soldiers and is banned by numerous countries. The FDA released a consumer warning about the ingredient this spring.

Gentech isn’t limited to just one harmful product; the company’s website markets a phentermine-mimicking supplement called PhenTabz, which also comes in a bottle labeled specifically for “teen weight loss.” This is a buyer-beware scenario to the nth degree because of who the target market is for these two products: young people, just trying to achieve higher grades or a lower BMI. The good news is it doesn’t take much time for consumers to research whether they should stay away from products or websites like these. A wealth of information is publicly accessible from our searchable databases of pharmacy websites and products — including tens of thousands of drugs and dietary supplements.

When we monitor products like ADDTabz and evaluate websites like Gentech Pharmaceutical’s, one of our goals is for the public to know what we know: that some products that claim to be safe could be anything but. Even if they are plugged in a top university’s newspaper.