FDA warning letters fall on Trump’s watch



The Food and Drug Administration sent out one-third fewer warning letters to marketers of problematic drugs, devices, or food during the first 28 months of Donald Trump’s presidency than it did during the final 28 months of the Obama administration, according to findings from an analysis of public records sponsored by Science magazine and published July 2.

From Jan. 20, 2017, (President Trump’s inauguration day) through May 22, 2019, FDA sent out 1,033 warning letters, compared with 1,532 warning letters sent during the 28 months ending just before the inauguration, a drop of 33%, wrote Charles Piller, an investigative journalist on the Science staff (Science. 2019 Jul 2. doi: 10.1126/science.aay5859). Also during January 2017–May 2019, “official action indicated” reports, described by Mr. Piller as a frequent precursor to warning letters, fell by 45%, from 1,879 during the final 28 months of the Obama administration to 1,040 during the first 28 months of the Trump administration. The incidence of an injunction, characterized by Mr. Piller as a ”more forceful” step than a warning letter, was 35 during the 28 months before Donald Trump became president and 26 during the 28 months after, a relative 26% decline.

More detailed numbers in the report included a 33% drop in warning letters from the FDA center that deals with tobacco products, a 37% drop in warning letters from the center that deals with food safety, and a 72% fall in letters sent from the Center for Devices & Radiological Health. However the FDA Center for Drug Evaluation & Research sent 62% more warning letters (188) during the first 28 months after Donald Trump became president, compared with the final 28 months under President Obama, when it sent 116 warning letters. A year-by-year analysis that started in 2009 showed that warning letters peaked at about 800 per year during both 2011 and 2012, and then showed a steady decline during all subsequent years, falling to a rate during the first months of 2019 that projected to an annualized rate of 385 total warning letters sent by the end of this year.

In response to publication of these findings, FDA Media Relations Director Angela Stark said “the way the data are presented in the story does not accurately reflect FDA’s overarching work to protect the public health. While one publicly visible measure of FDA action, it’s important to understand that warning letters are just one action the FDA takes to seek compliance. The FDA has several tools at its disposal to work with a company to ensure compliance, such as through regulatory meetings with companies; untitled letters; follow-up inspections; and other regulatory and compliance measures depending on the situation, and we often do much of this behind the scenes in the interest of patient safety. Our use of any one enforcement tool may fluctuate year to year based on a number of factors, including the FDA’s assessment of the violations uncovered during the course of inspections, along with additional product-monitoring efforts.”

Ms. Stark also noted that, in some FDA centers, warning letters may have decreased “because the FDA has increased its interactions with industry to resolve issues, which often achieves more timely and effective corrective action.”

She also highlighted 1,300 warning letter and monetary penalty complaints sent to retailers since September 2018 over illegal sales of e-cigarettes to minors, “tens of thousands” of warning letters sent to tobacco retailers since the start of 2017 over other tobacco-related issues, and actions against stem-cell clinics that have marketed unapproved treatments.

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SOURCE: Piller C. Science. 2019 Jul 2. doi: 10.1126/science.aay5859)

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