Weight-loss drug poses danger

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    An overweight American is determined to shed a few pounds but realizes that poses a few problems. Exercise? Sorry, sweat stings his eyes. Fruits and vegetables? Only if they come deep fried. Self control? Nah, that’s not for him.

    No worries, friend. Help is on the way.

    According to a Philadelphia Inquirer report, a federal panel of scientific experts voted 11-3 Monday to endorse the over-the-counter sale of orlistat, a powerful drug that blocks the body’s ability to absorb 30 percent of the fat it takes in, a step that will likely lead to the FDA’s approval of nonprescription sale.

    Ah, the promise of shedding pounds without shedding any tears. Drug-makers know what Americans want, and it’s not diet and exercise.

    But haven’t we seen this before?

    In 2004, the FDA finally pulled the plug on products containing ephedra, an herbal weight-loss aid, after years of concern over the supplement’s safety. In 1997, it was fen-phen. Both caused fatal vascular problems.

    Since orlistat is a drug, its effects have been examined more closely than its supplement predecessors, but what happens when the drug falls into irresponsible hands? What happens when a self-conscious teenager, desperate to fit in with classmates, decides to take five or six times the recommended dose in an effort to accelerate weight loss? Does anyone know for sure?

    The drug’s manufacturer, GlaxoSmithKline, insists overdose will not be an issue because taking more than the required dose will not lead to more rapid weight loss. Can we really trust that everyone will look into how a drug works?

    Besides the dent it would put in the pocketbooks of GlaxoSmithKline executives, why should we stop requiring a prescription for orlistat? In an increasingly image-obsessed culture, it is not the best idea.

    News editor Mike Dwyer for the editorial board