Many Experts Consulting With FDA Advise Pulling Diet Drug Meridia From Market Due to Heart Risks
If FDA follows the lead of European Union and English drug agencies in ordering a halt to Meridia sales and prescriptions, only the drug orlistat would remain as an approved medication for aiding weight loss. Orlistat -- which comes in a full-strength, prescription-only form under the brand name Xenical (Roche) and in a half-strength OTC version labeled Alli (GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare) -- has its own unwelcome side effects, including loose bowels, flatulence and stomach pain.
But here's the real problem with both Meridia and Xenical/Alli: Neither help people lose all that much weight. Adding either of the medications to a standard regimen of eating less and exercising more produces about an extra 5 lbs. of weight loss over a three-year period. The possibility of losing five extra pounds hardly seems worth the risk of suffering even relatively minor discomfort and embarrassment. Certainly, maybe dropping 5 lbs. isn't worth your life.
While it remains unclear what action FDA will take regarding Meridia, the U.S. agency has a strong track record of recalling weight-loss drugs and dietary supplements when the products prove to be unsafe. From the banning of Fen-Phen in 1997 to the recall of the bodybuilding supplement Hydroxycut in 2009 and this month's rejection of a New Drug application for Arena's lorcaserin, FDA has been quick to withdraw official support from fat-blocking and fat-burning medications shown to harm people's livers, hearts and overall health.
I hope the agency will again act in patients' best interest.