Peptide Clinics taken to court by TGA over false advertising claims about bodybuilder drug
A website boasting about selling wonder drugs that provide customers with bronzed skin, big muscles and optimal fitness has been accused of false advertising by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).
- The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) is seeking a court injunction on the business’ advertising
- Schedule 4 drug Melanotan II is not regulated in Australia
- Peptide Clinics claims it has 40,000 satisfied patients
The TGA claims Peptide Clinics is misleading customers by marketing some drugs as safe when they have significant health risks.
It has launched action in the Federal Court, seeking an order forcing the online Australian business to remove all advertising of Schedule 4 (prescription only) drugs, as well as banning it from future online marketing for five years.
“The use, particularly the use without appropriate medical supervision, of the advertised products carries substantial risks to human health,” the TGA claims in its notice to the court.
Peptide Clinics — which has refused to comment — is not the only online website selling the drugs.
One of the products being sold by the clinic, which claims to have 40,000 “satisfied patients”, is controversial drug Melanotan II — an injection that tans skin and is commonly used in Australia’s bodybuilding and fitness industry.
Also known as the “Barbie drug”, Melanotan II was identified on the 2013 AFL charge sheet against Essendon as the drug former coach and player James Hird allegedly injected himself with.
He reportedly suffered side effects including discoloured skin and sensitivity to the sun.
In Australia, use of Melanotan II is unregulated.
But it is currently captured in Schedule 4 of the TGA’s poisons standard and no products containing Melanotan II are registered for use in Australia.
Peptides at centre of sporting scandals
Other drugs include AOD–9605, the growth hormone that was injected into Essendon footballers in 2012, as well as CJC–1295 and GPRH–6, which were the hormone-boosting peptides administered to the NRL’s Cronulla Sharks in 2011.
It also includes Thymosin Beta–4, the injury-repairing peptide at the centre of the World Anti-Doping Agency’s ongoing case against Essendon players.
Peptides similar to these for the South African market are being sold in Australia. (Supplied: Peptide Clinics)
In court documents, the TGA is seeking a court declaration that the advertised products are being advertised as “safe” by Peptide Clinics when “in fact they are not safe and can cause harm”.
“[Peptide Clinics] present scientific information in an inaccurate, imbalanced and misleading manner,” the document states.
Documents also state that the clinic’s conduct misleads the public into thinking that use of the products are being supervised or approved by a medical practitioner “when it is not”.
The TGA claims Peptide Clinics published information on its website that asserts “a number of purported benefits” including anti-ageing, bodybuilding, weight loss, injury repair, tanning and increased sexual function.
Former Adelaide bodybuilder Rob Strangis, who now helps run national competitions, told the ABC there was not enough research in the public domain about the potential side effects of peptides.
“I know that there are a lot of athletes in the industry that use them,” he said.
He said he had twice ordered peptides online in 2014 and they “certainly increased my size, increased my muscle strength” and he suffered no adverse side effects from use.
But he said he believed peptide use was safer than anabolic steroids, of which he suffered side effects, including fluid build-up that had to be removed, about 25 years ago.
“I found peptides to be a lot more natural,” he said.
Mr Strangis said Melanotan II use was common in the fitness industry but two friends who had been injecting themselves had not reported any problems.
He said it would be difficult for the online peptide businesses to inform customers of the side effects when there simply was not enough research to confirm whether they are dangerous or not.
Peptide Clinics advertising ‘not accurate or balanced’
In court documents, the TGA claims that customers submit a “medical questionnaire” to Peptide Clinics, which is reviewed within 24 hours, before a log-in is provided to access the website’s “back end” — not accessible by the public at large.
“At the back end, the customer has access to additional information and can purchase peptides and peptide treatments,” the documents state.
It states that in November 2018, Peptide Clinics made changes to its website and social media after discussions with the TGA, but the business continued to advertise therapeutic goods at the back end of its website.
The TGA claimed that Peptide Clinics had links to web pages about cardiovascular, rheumatic and bone disease but did not have approval from the Health Department to “use the restricted representations”.
It claimed Peptide Clinics advertised therapeutic goods on its website that had the potential to mislead consumers and was in breach of the Advertising Code.
“The webpage … referred to a clinical study purportedly finding that ‘only 5 per cent of the sunscreens that were tested held up to safety standards’ and ‘another 40 per cent were said to contribute to developing skin cancer’,” documents stated.
The TGA claimed those statements were “not presented in a manner that was accurate, balanced and not misleading”.