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Dangerous Diet Pills From Brazil Pose Health Threat

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

Despite warnings from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, dangerous prescription diet pills from Brazil are actively circulated in the United States. A new report analyzes their contents and suggests that the medical consequences of these imported amphetamine-based diet pills might be greater than previously recognized.

The report, issued today by the Journal of General Internal Medicine (JGIM), presents two cases that illustrate the potential harm of the illicit diet pills. The pills are commonly prescribed in Brazil and contain a dangerous mixture of medications including amphetamines, tranquilizers, antidepressants, laxatives, and water pills. One patient visited multiple physicians over a two-year period for symptoms ascribed to the imported diet pills, while the other, a municipal truck driver, was suspended from work when he tested positive for amphetamine on a routine occupational drug screen. Analyses of the pills revealed multiple medications which did not correspond to the labels on pill bottles.

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Fenproporex, the amphetamine in these pills, is not legally available in the United States. Yet fenproporex remains widely prescribed in some parts of the world and is available in the U.S. over the Internet as well as through other illicit channels. The JGIM report reviews the lack of safety data for fenproporex and outlines the numerous potential health risks, including addiction, depression, and stroke.

Author Dr. Pieter Cohen, an internist at Cambridge Health Alliance and an instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School, became concerned about the pills' use when he noticed that many patients were experiencing unexplained chest pain, tremors, and anxiety. Eventually, some of these patients confided that they were using imported diet pills. "Since the pills are prescribed by physicians, some people assume they must be safe," said Dr. Cohen. "In fact, since the labels are misleading, people have no idea what dangerous cocktail of medications they are actually using."

Dr. Cohen is hopeful that the analyses of the diet pills' composition will provide a better understanding of their potential risks: "Increasing physicians' awareness of the danger and prevalence of the imported diet pills may improve care of patients suffering from the pills' many adverse effects."