Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Diet Pills

Last Wednesday (2/2/11) the New York Times published the article “F.D.A. Fails to Approve Diet Drug.” The prescription diet pill Contrave will not be approved until a long-term study can prove that it dose not raise the risk of heart attacks.
In recent months the FDA has turned down two other weight-loss drugs. Now experts believe the decision will discourage drug companies from developing weight loss drugs. Several commentators expressed disapproval echoing that of by Morgan Downey, editor of the Downey Obesity Report,  that “the FDA has decided that the most significant threat to public health will not be treated by any drug.”

There are several problems with this response. Foremost, the FDA is trying to prevent overweight people-- people who are already at the highest risk for heart-attacks-- from taking a drug that will further increase their risk of heart attacks. Obesity certainly is “the most significant threat to public health” as Downey notes, and heart attacks are the biggest problem with obesity (Overweight and Obesity- Health Consequences, CDC). However, the drug is only “modestly effective” and has been shown to raise pulse rates and blood pressure which is an indicator that it may cause heart attacks.
Last year the FDA forced the diet drug Meridia (which it had approved in 1997) off the market because European regulators showed that it increases the risk of heart attacks and strokes. It seems the FDA is trying to learn from its mistakes.
A second problem is that the article is that it fails to mention that obesity is not a disease and drugs are not the cure (Overweight and Obesity- Causes and Consequences, CDC). Downey implies that weight loss drugs are beneficial response to a pressing public health issue. However, lifestyle modification is the most effective way to lose weight, it is already available to everyone, and in light of potential risks and “modest effectiveness” of the drug, the best solution is the simplest one. There is no need for this drug.
It is relevant to note how Contrave works. The drug is actually a combination of two other drugs already on the market. One is sold both as an antidepressant and as a drug to help people quit smoking. The other is prescribed to treat alcohol and drug addition.
The company that developed Contrave, Orexigen Therapeutics, says that the drug works by suppressing the appetite. The drug’s other uses suggest that it suppresses craving generally rather than the drive for food in particular. And the antidepressant, well, you don’t need food to make you happy when you’ve got drugs to make you happy.
The fact that the drug treats behavioral disorders should be a clue that obesity is a behavioral problem and the solution should be to change behavior. Unlike drug additions, which are chemical, food additions are psychological. In some extreme cases, counseling may help with food additions.
These glaring omissions in the article lead me to question the objectivity of the author or the source.

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