One of the most popular over-the-counter weight loss drugs, Alli, causes irreversible kidney, liver and other organ damage according to a recent study by researchers at the University of Rhode Island. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced Monday that it "is reviewing adverse event reports of liver injury in patients taking the weight loss drug orlistat, marketed as theprescription drug Xenical and the over-the-counter medication Alli."
Thus, the poor safety record of weight-loss drugs seems unblemished. Or, more accurately, as filled with blemishes as ever.
In the late 1990s, the FDA ordered all versions of the then-popular diet pill phen-fen--a combination of the prescription medications phentermine and fenfluramine--off the market because users experienced usually rare heart and lung disorders. And while phentermine continues to be available,its severe side effects limit its use.
The dietary supplement for weight loss Hydroxycut was subject to an FDA warning and recall this past May because of liver damage among users. According to the agency, 32 orlistat users have experienced "serious liver injury."
I give FDA credit for alerting consumers to newly identified potential dangers from using Alli or Xenical. At the same time, my colleagues and I have often found it necessary to comment on the agency's slow or absent response to drug and dietary supplement safety issues.
If FDA finds it necessary to request stronger warnings on prescription or OTC versions of orlistat, any liability for injuries to patients would rest primarily with the drug's makers, Roche and GlaxoSmithKline.