Over-the-counter diet pill raises health, safety concerns

Xenical, the drug that has helped many obese people lose weight when diets failed them, may soon be available over the counter. However, there is a key word in that sentence: obese.

This drug was designed for people who are dangerously overweight with a body mass index of 30 or greater (to determine your body mass index, divide your weight by the square of your height), and making it available over- the-counter raises ethical questions.

First of all, Xenical is far from a miracle drug. Many people on the prescription drug, generically known as orlistat, have lost a significant amount of weight.

But as with any other weight loss drug, the pill only reaches its full potential when combined with a proper diet and exercise.

Xenical blocks about 30 percent of the fat that you would normally absorb in your intestines. However, that fat doesn’t magically disappear.

Instead, it is removed from the body through bowel movements, which can cause loose or oily stool, excessive gas, incontinence and oily spotting.

Like any drug, one must look at how the side effects compare to the end result. Xenical does boast a very high safety record, which means it will likely avoid the problems caused by Phen-Fen back in the 1990s.

There are some misconceptions about the drug’s potential as an over-the-counter product. This version of Xenical will be called Alli, and it will be only half the strength of prescription Xenical (60 milligrams as opposed to 120 milligrams).

In Phase IV clinical trials, which are the last stage of trials before the Food and Drug Administration can approve it for over-the-counter release, those who took a 60-milligram dose three times a day posted an average weight loss of six pounds in six months.

Even at a lower dose, the drug remains powerful enough that GlaxoSmithKline, who will manufacture the drug, has recommended that it not be sold to people under 18 to prevent teenagers concerned with appearance from buying a drug designed for medically needed weight loss.

This sounds noble on the manufacturer’s part, and it will certainly deter some teenagers from obtaining the drug, but it is not fool-proof.

After all, no matter where you live, teenagers have easy access to cigarettes, and those are not supposed to be sold to minors. If Alli is available over-the-counter, it means that more people will have it in their homes, giving teenagers more access.

The other ethical issue raised is potential drug abuse. Six pounds in six months might be a milestone for people who have otherwise been unable to lose any weight, but someone who wants to shed a lot of weight in a small amount of time may be tempted to overdose. If the drug is available over-the-counter, there’s really nothing to stop them.

While this news has already received negative publicity, there are some people, and many college students undoubtedly, who are eager to lose weight and want to do it in the easiest way possible.

Of course, being in college, you don’t have to worry about having trouble purchasing the drug – which means that if Alli is over-the- counter, it will be your responsibility to decide if it’s right for you.

Information from – medicalnewstoday.com/healthnews.php?newsid=36511&nfid=rssfeeds, http://health.yahoo.com/drug/d04429a1;_ylt=Ar__cS0H.D4bSyU5TIEkYovxurcF and clinicialtrials.gov.