Lamar Odom and the lesson on risky sex pills

Story highlights

  • Lamar Odom was found unconscious in a Nevada brothel, the apparent victim of drugs and supplements
  • Ford Vox: Men are easy targets of sexual performance enhancer supplements, which can be harmful

Ford Vox is a physician specializing in rehabilitation medicine and a journalist. He is a medical analyst for NPR station WABE 90.1 in Atlanta. He writes frequently for CNN Opinion. Follow him on Twitter @FordVox. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN)Lamar Odom, an NBA and reality TV star, was found unconscious Tuesday in a Nevada brothel, the apparent victim, says the local sheriff, of a combination of cocaine and "10 sexual performance enhancer supplements."

While there are still many details we don't know at this point, this tragic incident put a spotlight on America's lucrative supplement industry.
Odom's highs and lows are well-documented through the distorted lens of the Kardashian media industrial complex, and this latest low will probably be no different. The report of what happened to him seems almost like a scene from a Quentin Tarantino film. According to some accounts, a swarm of bordello prostitutes attempted to revive their client and call 911, only to see him unable to fit into the air ambulance chopper to Las Vegas.
    Ford Vox
    But let's put aside the salacious details. Men should pay attention to what happened to Odom. They make easy targets for the supplement industry.
    All manufacturers need do is deploy an enticing lingo and packaging to get us to pop these mystery pills. The names are cringe-worthy in the full light of day, where they're rarely unwrapped. Herbal Vigor Quick Fix, O.M.G., Arize, Eyeful and Weekend Warrior are among the more printable brands to earn recent FDA warnings.
    Men are turning to products that often falsely claim to be "all natural" in order to gain supernatural powers in bed, or so we think.
    An estimated 567 men go to the emergency room every year for complications related to over-the-counter, poorly regulated sexual enhancement products, according to a New England Journal of Medicine report published this week. That report doesn't try to estimate the number of dead on arrival cases, because of the complexities of analyzing cause of death reports around the country.
    As for Odom, he may now be suffering from an anoxic brain injury. That's when the whole brain is not getting enough well-oxygenated blood flow to survive. This is my current analysis based on the reported details so far, which include him being found unresponsive and having apparently vomited. He's still comatose over 48 hours later, according to reports. Unnamed "sources" featured by E! and NBC claim that Odom has suffered "at least one stroke."
    Without further detail, such language could mean there's an area of selectively more oxygen-deprived brain as part of an overall anoxic injury, or a separate event occurred, such as a spasm of an artery. It's also possible a clot traveled to the brain from the heart, which may have been prone to forming a clot because of poor blood flow related to an abnormal rhythm (another side effect of some drugs and drug combinations).
    A likely scenario would involve a cardiac arrest induced by the cocaine, and/or any number of toxic metabolic effects from the unknown sexual supplement he took. The combination of these various compounds may be at fault, and we do not know as yet about other medications he may have been taking, or any other medical conditions he may have.
    Sometimes these "sexual enhancer" supplements are adulterated with pharmaceuticals not listed on the label in order to skirt the regulations that do exist. In a number of cases the FDA has found that they contain the active compound in Viagra, sildenafil, which can suddenly drop the blood pressure and provoke seizure as known side effects, and which can be deadly in combination with some other prescribed drugs. Experiencing sildenafil's worse side effects would be more expected in the case of an overdose or it being adulterated, which is likely in the case of these supplements.
    Supplements make their way into brothels, head shops and convenience stores without having to pass through rigorous safety testing like other drugs. Men who want to imagine themselves transforming into a vigorous Greek god would be better off picturing a little guinea pig. Even if the potions feature new concoctions never before on the market, the FDA is powerless to demand safety testing first. The agency only takes action when problems arise after the fact.
    I hope Odom is getting world-class care and that his wife Khloe Kardashian and his physicians see eye to eye. These situations can sometimes become as dramatic as a television series, even without the involvement of TV stars. It's key that everyone involved keeps Odom's best interests, prior expressed wishes and long-term prognosis paramount.
    As for the rest of us, there's a thing or two we can learn from celebrity illnesses and injuries. Stay away from sketchy supplements, and talk to your doctor before experimenting on yourself.