PORT HURON, Mich. (CN) – The maker of a competing male enhancement drug sued Detroit-area Sunoco gas stations on Monday, claiming the franchisees have unlawfully sold supplements that contain the same ingredient used in Viagra.
Outlaw Laboratory of Houston, Texas, which markets and sells supplements called TriSteel and TriSteel 8 Hour, says that the gas stations have sold sexual enhancement products imported from China and branded under the name “Rhino” to unwitting customers who believe that they are natural supplements, and at the expense of competitors like Outlaw that sell legitimate sexual enhancement products.
According to the complaint filed Monday in Port Huron, Michigan, federal court by lead attorney Christopher Boss, the Rhino products contain the prescription drugs tadalafil and sildenafil, and the unapproved anti-depressant dapoxetine.
Even though the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has warned that they are illegal, there have been only a few enforcement actions, allowing the widespread distribution of the illegal supplements, Outlaw claims.
“Defendants have taken full advantage of this regulatory landscape, making significant profits selling dangerous products while openly engaging in illicit activity,” the 37-page federal lawsuit states.
Sixty-two Sunoco branded gas stations are named as defendants. Sunoco is not a party to the complaint.
In a phone interview, another one of Outlaw’s attorneys, Robert Tauler, said the supplements are imported from China and then distributed through a “vast network of shadow distributors.”
He said that distributors sometimes show up in trucks at the franchisee gas stations, convenience stores, and other retailers to hawk the supplements for cash. Although Sonoco is not named as a defendant, Tauler said, it is being “very cavalier from a corporate standpoint” by failing to tackle the problem.
“It’s happening all around our country. There are multiple importers. There are many, many distributors. It’s a huge shadow conspiracy. Everyone is in on it. It’s happening underneath all of our noses,” Tauler said.
Sunoco did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The FDA has approved sildenafil, known by its brand name Viagra, for treatment of erectile dysfunction, but only with a prescription and after consultation with a health care professional. According to the lawsuit, the drugs in the Rhino supplements can have dangerous side effects, which include permanent erectile dysfunction, hypotension, heart attack and stroke.
“Defendants have created an illegitimate marketplace of consumers seeking to enhance their sexual performance but who are not informed, or who are misinformed, of the serious dangers of using defendants’ enhancement products,” the lawsuit states.
Seeking a permanent injunction, Outlaw’s complaint alleges false advertising. The company has filed similar lawsuits against gas stations and stores in Texas, California, Georgia, and Nevada, according to the Courthouse News database.
The distributors can evade regulators by simply changing the name of the supplement and marketing under another name, Tauler had said after filing a different lawsuit against Houston area Shell convenience stores.