Dieters rah-rah over fen-phen
December 17, 1996
Web posted at: 6:45 a.m. EST
From Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen
LONG BEACH, California (CNN) -- Yet another "miracle" diet aid is sweeping America with promises to slim the flabby thighs and bulging stomachs of all willing to swallow a pill or two.
The fen-phen diet solution is a combination of two Food and Drug Administration approved drugs into a chemical mix that shuts off the brain's appetite.
The appeal of mouth-watering treats like chocolate cake, donuts and ice cream quickly fade under the influence of fen-phen.
"You're just tricking the body with drugs," explained Dr. George Blackburn of Harvard Medical School. "It's shutting the appetite off."
Anecdotal evidence abounds of the drug combination's miraculous effect. Women, who appear to be fen-phen's most active consumers, regularly tell of shedding 40, 50, even 60 pounds in less than a year.
Word of mouth
"Somebody came in yesterday I didn't recognize at all," said pharmacist Robert Zuckerman. "She had lost maybe 40 or 50 pounds; she had a new jaw, a new face; she had a new neck. All I recognized was the voice."
Word of mouth about their successful combination has pushed fenfluramine and phentermine, the two halves of fen-phen, onto the list of the top 10 fastest-growing drugs in America. So far this year pharmacists have dispensed about eight million prescriptions for phentermine, twice as many as in 1995.
Although both fenfluramine and phentermine are FDA-approved, their combination is not. That is because ingesting the two together does not fall under FDA control.
Doctors can prescribe fen-phen, but many physicians are reluctant to let patients pop untested drug combinations. As a result, many rebuffed fen-phen seekers have turned to increasingly popular fen-phen clinics.
"Fen-phen clinics, $100 per month including pills. Every new shopping center probably has a little clinic going," said Zuckerman. "One day it's empty, the next day everybody's in white coats and stethoscopes, lots of scales."
The bull run toward fen-phen's widespread use has been driven by reports that nothing could be easier. Users often describe the results as "effortless," quite a contrast to the healthy diet and regular exercise most doctors recommend.
Thelma Masters loved fen-phen, despite discovering that the act of eating quickly became a struggle.
"The first couple of weeks I really had no appetite," said Masters. "I mean, you had to force yourself to eat."
But fen-phen is not a fool-proof miracle of modern science. There are potentially serious side effects from fen-phen that will be explored Wednesday in a story by Correspondent Eugenia Halsey.
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