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These Tainted Supplements Led To Prolonged Erections And Even Surgery In Some Men

The FDA is warning people to avoid Rhino male enhancement supplements, which may contain harmful ingredients and lead to serious health issues.

Posted on November 28, 2018, at 5:38 p.m. ET

Towfiqu Photography / Getty Images

You've probably seen these before — over-the-counter sexual enhancement supplements with bizarre names and packaging, promising everything from a bigger penis to increased stamina. They're usually sold at gas stations or convenience stores, and increasingly on e-commerce websites.

Largely unregulated, these supplements can come with hidden health risks — and one brand in particular has come under fire recently for its potentially harmful contaminants.

The FDA urged people this week not to buy or use Rhino male enhancement products because they may contain dangerous, hidden ingredients.

People who took Rhino products reported chest pain, severe headaches, prolonged erections — sometimes requiring surgical intervention — and even hospitalization due to extreme drops in blood pressure, the agency said.

The products are sold under a variety of names that include Rhino, such as Platinum Rhino 25000 or Krazzy Rhino 25000. The supplements are not FDA-approved to treat male sexual dysfunction, despite the claims made on their packaging.

FDA / Via
FDA / Via

The Rhino products are one example of many sexual enhancement supplements containing unapproved, hidden ingredients that are the same as or chemically similar to the active ingredients in prescription medication.

"The FDA has identified various Rhino products containing sildenafil and/or tadalafil, the active ingredients in the FDA-approved prescription drugs Viagra and Cialis, respectively," the agency wrote. While these two drugs are FDA-approved to treat erectile dysfunction, they have to be prescribed by a doctor — and they do not belong in over-the-counter supplements.

These undeclared active ingredients can cause side effects or serious adverse reactions. For example, they may interact with other prescription drugs containing nitrates, which are often taken by people with diabetes or heart disease, and lower blood pressure to dangerous levels, the agency wrote.

In 2012, a 39-year-old man in Kansas died after taking an unapproved erectile dysfunction drug allegedly labeled as a supplement, the Kansas City Star reported. David R. McElwee suffered from a drop in blood pressure that led to a fatal heart attack two days after taking a male sexual enhancement product sold under the name Stiff Nights, according to the Star.

“Over the past few years, the FDA has been combatting the retail sale of male enhancement drug products that are frequently misrepresented as dietary supplements and that contain hidden and potentially harmful active drug ingredients. Distributing unapproved drugs, disguised as supplements, places the U.S. public health at risk,” Donald Ashley, director of the Office of Compliance at the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, said in the FDA's statement.

Medic Image / Getty Images

Perhaps you think this warning is obvious — that of course you'd never buy a sexual enhancement supplement called Krazzy Rhino, sold on a shelf next to 24-hour-energy shots and synthetic marijuana. But it's not just the gas station penis pills that you need to worry about.

The FDA is also warning consumers about over-the-counter products marketed for weight loss, bodybuilding, and pain relief that are misrepresented as dietary supplements. The agency keeps a running list of these fraudulent products in their tainted products database.

That said, the FDA noted that it is unable to test all dietary supplements for hidden or harmful ingredients, so even if a product isn't in the database you should still use caution. Always talk to your doctor first, because dietary supplements could interact with other medications you're taking.

"Consumers should also be on alert for products that offer immediate or quick results and that sound too good to be true," the agency wrote.

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.