Controversial weight loss drug hitting shelves

Bottle of Alli

TEXT OF STORY

SCOTT JAGOW: Tomorrow, drugmaker Glaxo launches an over-the-counter weight loss pill called Alli. With so many Americans overweight, this could be a blockbuster drug. But it has plenty of critics, Helen Palmer reports from our Health Desk at WGBH.


Helen Palmer: Glaxo's spending $150 million to market Alli, a half-strength version of prescription weight-loss pill Xenical

. But critics say it should not be available without a prescription. Alex Sugerman-Brozan of the consumer watchdog Prescription Access Litigation Project:

Alex Sugerman-Brozan: There is nothing to prevent people who should not be using this drug from using it — particularly teenagers and people with eating disorders for whom this drug could be quite dangerous.

Sugerman-Brozan says Alli's only approved for adults, but there's no mechanism to control who actually buys the drug.

Glaxo insists pharmacists won't sell it to teenagers, and they've produced a book full of advice called "Losing Weight Without Losing Your Mind," and an extensive website. But Sugerman-Brozan says that won't stop abuse.

Sugerman-Brozan: This is not aspirin. It's a very strong drug with very significant effects.

He says Alli works by preventing the digestion of fat. It blocks vital fat soluble vitamins like A, E and D and poses a danger of malnutrition.

In Boston, I'm Helen Palmer for Marketplace.

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