Experts: Powerful diet drug can be deadly
October 9, 1996
Web posted at: 5:00 p.m. EDT
(CNN) -- Looking for a way to stop craving fatty foods, like
monster fudge cake or apple pie a la mode? An increasingly
popular diet drug attempts to do just that, but some medical
professionals warn that the medication holds serious and
sometimes fatal side effects.
The controversial diet medication, known as phen-fen, is a
powerful prescription drug combination.
Dr. Marcy Zwelling-Aamot holds bi-weekly sessions in her Los
Angeles office for anyone wanting to learn about phen-fen.
During the seminars, she discusses the diet medication and
nutrition and then writes prescriptions for it.
Zwelling-Aamot says the drug changes brain chemicals to give
people the will power to stop their over-eating habits.
"They now have control, and it's control they're really
after," said Zwelling-Aamot, who claims to have lost 25
pounds on phen-fen. "It's knowing that when they get up in
the morning their day will not be overcome with food."
But control holds a heavy cost. The U.S. Food and Drug
Administration warns that phen-fen can be dangerous,
especially if you:
- are an alcoholic
- take certain anti-depressants
- have moderate to high blood pressure
- have symptoms of heart disease
A price to pay
At Zwelling-Aamot's seminars, which cost $30 to attend, she
hands out information on phen-fen and nutrition. After an
hour-and-half lecture, she writes three-month prescriptions
to those in attendance.
"We're going to turn you into a raving beauty whether you
like it or not," she told one group.
Zwelling-Aamot doesn't meet with each participant to ask
about their medical history, nor does she perform a physical
examination to check on their heart, lungs and blood
Diet experts say an examination is essential, because a
small number of people on phen-fen are susceptible to a lung
disease called primary pulmonary hypertension, which kills
about half of its victims within four years.
Although Zwelling-Aamot does not conduct an exam on everyone,
she explains the risks of primary pulmonary hypertension to
the group. She also makes everyone sign a pledge to follow up
with their own physician.
Zwelling-Aamot adds that she's willing to prescribe the
medication to help people shed a few pounds. (7 sec. /160K AIFF or WAV sound)
"At least here, they sign a form that they've been taught how
to take the medications," she said. People could get the
medication from a "zillion places" if they really wanted it,
she said. (9 sec. /96K AIFF or WAV sound)
But the FDA says the risk of catching lung disease just to
lose a few pounds is not worth it, and the agency cautions
that only those who are truly obese should take the
medication. To Zwelling-Aamot's credit, she rejected one
patient for being too thin during this report.
Meanwhile, Dr. Michael Weintraub, who did the largest study
on phen-fen, said the medication is not being used as
intended -- that intake and other factors need to be
monitored more carefully. (14 sec. /160K AIFF or WAV sound)
"I wish everyone would use the medications in the way we
outlined in the study," he said.
From Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen
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