The Loss of Two Popular Diet Drugs Ignites Search for Alternatives

January 01, 1997  ·  Michael Fumento  ·  CNN Morning News  ·  Overweight and obesity

The removal of two popular diet drugs from the market means fewer choices for people struggling to lose weight. Michael Fumento, author of The Fat of the Land, discusses why the battle against obesity is so difficult for so many Americans. BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: The removal of two popular diet drugs from the market means fewer choices for people struggling to lose weight.

CNN’s Linda Ciampa looks at some of the alternatives available now, and some that are in the works.

LINDA CIAMPA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Caroline Finnegan started taking Phen-Pro or Phentermine and Prozac to lose weight for her daughter’s wedding a couple of years ago. She lost 50 pounds. CAROLINE FINNEGAN: What they do is make you so you are not hungry. And you don’t want the food, therefore you eat less food.

CIAMPA: Sounds like what many people said about Fen-phen. But the doctor who wrote the book, Safer than Fen-Phen says this combination of phentermine and Prozac doesn’t have dangerous health hazards and is just as effective for weight loss.

DR. MICHAEL ANCHORS, AUTHOR, SAFER THAN PHEN-FEN: I’ve treated 600 patients. Some of them for longer than two years; almost all of them lost weight, many lost a lot of weight.

CIAMPA: Dr. Anchors says getting rid of the Fenfluramine in the Fen-phen combination, and pairing phentermine with Prozac instead is the safe way to go. But some doctors question that.

DR. DAVID ROBERTSON, EMORY UNIVERSITY: By itself, Prozac can be taken for long periods of time with no risk of the complications we associate with weight loss drugs. By itself, phentermine is generally safe taken for up to four to six weeks in patients who have no medical problems. There is no data on how safe it is to take phentermine long term, even in small doses.

CIAMPA: Even so, nutri/system has jumped on the Phen-Pro, prescribing it for the seriously obese.

Other fat fighting drugs that obesity experts are talking about, Meridia, which works by manipulating the brain chemical serotonin, could win FDA approval before the end of the year. Further down the pipeline, Xenical, or orlistat, which works by preventing the body from absorbing fat.

The company that makes Xenical withdrew its application from the FDA last month because of a possible link between the drug and breast cancer.

(on-camera): In light of all the health dangers now associated with Fen-phen and Redux, and more doctors are becoming reluctant to prescribe any drug to lose weight loss. Instead they are reemphasizing the age old mantra of diet and exercise.

(voice-over): It worked for Melanie Duncan. Her doctor refused to prescribe medication and told her to start exercising and eating right.

MELANIE DUNCAN: I wasn’t pleased to begin with because I thought I needed that extra boost, but now looking at all the research and all, I am very pleased.

CIAMPA: Duncan lost 30 pounds in nine months. She says it hasn’t been easy, but at least she doesn’t have to worry about the side effects from drugs.

Linda Ciampa, CNN, Atlanta.

DONNA KELLEY, CNN ANCHOR: Why is the battle against obesity so difficult for so many Americans.