The Government is considering a ban on some slimming pills in the next month, following evidence that 15 deaths have been linked to the use of the amphetamine- style drugs, while hundreds of other users have suffered serious mental and physical side-effects.
The potential dangers of the drugs, frequently prescribed by private clinics to desperate slimmers, have been outlined in confidential consultation papers. They vary from rapid heart beat to depression, dependence and even psychosis.
A Department of Health spokeswoman said: "There is concern about the use of these pills, and whether it is appropriate to ban them as slimming aids. They are all licensed drugs and have a clinical use, but the concern is whether the controls are tight enough."
The Government's Medicines Commission reported that many patients receive prescriptions on demand, and that the "liberal quantities" allow for a black market. The users are also poorly monitored by clinics, and often are not overweight in the first place.
The pills work by suppressing a person's appetite, or by speeding up the body's metabolism, so that it burns up calories faster.
When slimmers have taken such drugs, which were reportedly used by the Duchess of York who recently shed almost three stone, they often see a dramatic weight loss in a very short period of time. But they may need to take increased dosages to keep up the effect.
Despite attempts by the General Medical Council (GMC) to impose restrictions, the pills have continued to flow among slimmers. The council sent a written warning to doctors on the harmful side-effects two years ago, and told them they faced disciplinary action for irresponsible prescriptions.
The latest report highlights the dangers of fenfluramine, which has been linked to five deaths, and phentermine, which was linked to two deaths among slimmers. The drug deithylpropion has been linked to a further eight deaths.
Among the victims was Christine Malik, a mother of two who died two years ago, aged 31, after she attempted to shed a few pounds before she went on holiday. She collapsed within five days of taking diuretics, appetite suppressants and hormone drugs prescribed by a private clinic in London.
Experts, including the GMC, have advised that the drugs should only be used to treat certain forms of obesity, and under expert medical supervision. But their use has remained rife outside these boundaries, and only a handful of doctors appear before the council each year to answer charges of issuing careless prescriptions.
Danger drugs, page 3
Leading article, page 14Reuse content