I-Team 8

Loose oversight on supplements concerns Indiana doctor

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Food you put in your body has regulations and many foods are also inspected, but the same rules do not apply to supplements.

I-Team 8 spoke with an Indiana doctor who started researching the supplements for his patients. Even he was surprised by what he found.

Vitamins and supplements are part of a morning routine for three in every four Americans. However, they’re all relying on what one doctor called a “manufacturer honor code” to make sure they’re safe.

“If you go to the drug store, the grocery store, the only thing that’s not really regulated before you put it in your body is supplements and vitamins,” said Doctor Sreekant Cherukuri, an Otolaryngologist in Northern Indiana.

The way the current law is written, the Food and Drug Administration cannot look into a product until it has already released and consumers report issues. You might remember Ephedra, a popular weight loss supplement in the ‘80s and ‘90s. More than 150 people died after taking it before the FDA could pull it off the market.

This loose oversight was something even Dr. Cherukuri did not know about until he began researching supplements for his own patients.

“We had a number of patients on fish oil and multivitamins and things like that and I couldn’t find a reliable study that showed that this provided a significant health benefit,” he said.

Marcia Hobbs and her family are all supplement users.

“Growing up, my mom sold Shackley, which is vitamins and minerals, and I grew up taking those every day,” said Hobbs.

Hobbs is among the many who take fish oil, and she said it helped her cholesterol. But Hobbs does her homework before making a purchase.

“We do a lot of research before we purchase anything, even a lot of our foods,” she said.

In 2015 the New York and Indiana Attorneys General asked for reforms on dietary supplement regulation. GNC made landmark reforms with their products, but people like Dr. Cherukuri say there are still supplements on the market that do not live up to the promises on their packaging.

“Most supplements and vitamins aren’t needed unless there’s a specific deficit in your body by lab testing, so a vast majority of people are taking things that probably don’t provide any benefit and do cost a fair amount of money,” Dr. Cherukuri said.

Dr. Cherukuri created his own supplement – made of Boswelia and Curcumin – to help patients with inflammation. If you are not buying supplements not created by a doctor, what should you do?

“They have to find a product that the company has third-party testing to verify that what they’re saying is in the bottle is actually in the bottle and then they have to do some research looking into the reasons they want to take it,” he said. “Has this substance been proven to have an effect?”

While we were working on this story, the FDA made an announcement about the way it regulates supplements. The FDA announced it is taking steps to be able to tell the public sooner if there is a concern with a supplement and develop new enforcement strategies. The agency has not gone into specific details of how this will all work, but we expect more information in the coming months.


Hamilton County’s ‘Wellness Unit’ part of nationwide effort to improve mental health among officers

NOBLESVILLE, Ind. (WISH) — An initiative to improve employee well-being at the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office is among a spate of efforts across the nation to address mental health concerns among officers.

Sheriff Dennis Quakenbush announced the department’s new “Wellness Unit”  — devoted to the physical, mental and spiritual health of its deputies, correctional officers and civilian employees — Friday in a Facebook post.

“Our guys really care about the public,” he said Monday in an interview with News 8. “When you see somebody who’s injured or victimized, it really impacts us… We’re only human.”

The Wellness Unit launched in January with funding approved by county council members and commissioners.

Appointments are held off-site at undisclosed locations to protect the privacy of employees. Supervisors are not briefed on which employees seek counseling or what they discuss during sessions.

Information gathered during counseling sessions will not be used to demote or discipline employees, and will only be disclosed if required by law, including when somebody poses an immediate danger to themselves or others.

The department’s entire staff will receive training related to suicide prevention, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, critical incidents, addiction, mindfulness and officer wellness, the sheriff said.

Nearly 1 in 4 police officers has thoughts of suicide at some point in their life, according to the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI); the suicide rate for police officers is four times higher than the rate for firefighters.

Years of daily exposure to stress, trauma and tragedy can have other devastating consequences if appropriate coping skills are not developed, according to Susan Sherer-Vincent, a licensed clinical social worker, certified alcoholism counselor and licensed marriage and family therapist involved in launching the Wellness Unit.

“Think of the hurricanes that come in, in Florida, and think of the palm trees where they bend,” she explained. “But then, what happens afterwards? They go back up. That’s called resilience. We want our officers to bend, not break.”

Until approximately 3 to 5 years ago, officers were often conditioned to “pull [themselves] up by the bootstraps and go to the next call” instead of addressing personal struggles, Sherer-Vincent said.

Cultivating resiliency can be difficult within a law enforcement culture that equates mental health challenges with “weakness,” she said.

“[Officers] are trained to have the warrior mentality,” Sherer-Vincent told News 8. “Truly, they would have been made fun of [in the past for seeking counseling].”

She compared strong, silent officers with underdeveloped coping skills to California’s famed redwood trees.

“They’re pretty sturdy. But what would happen if you took an ax and hit those every single day, day after day, for years? They would eventually fall,” she said.

Quakenbush credits his wife, church and non-law enforcement friends with providing “a really good support system.”

“But sometimes, you need a professional,” he said, urging employees to “talk through” negative emotions instead of turning to alcohol and other substances for temporary relief.

Several internal cases that resulted in disciplinary action during his year-long tenure as sheriff may have been prevented with wellness-focused intervention, Quakenbush said.

He was unable to comment on personnel matters. 

Sources within the department indicated some of the cases involved employees with substance abuse issues that had escalated over time, possibly as a result of work-related stress that had gone unaddressed. 

“I wouldn’t say that [disciplinary action] was happening often,” Quakenbush told News 8. “But seeing it happen and knowing that we probably could have done something about it made it impactful and something that we wanted to make a priority.”

Hamilton County announced its Wellness Unit days after New York City police officials revealed plans to hire a team of psychologists to combat a spike in officer suicides.

On Feb. 13, Indianapolis police officials said they planned to swear in the department’s first full-time therapy dog by the end of March.

  • FIND SUPPORT: Learn more about supporting law enforcement wellness on NAMI.org