Dangerous weight-loss drugs sold over the counter
Reported November 18, 2007
Dubai: Weight-loss products, which have been found to be minimally effective in helping people lose weight and could instead cause harm, are sold illegally in the UAE as over-the-counter medicines.
Orlistat (Xenical), sibutramine (Reductil) and rimonabant (Accomplia), found to help users shed 5kg to 9kg in long-term studies, are available in the UAE as prescription medicines. All three have side effects with Accomplia reporting the most serious effects by increasing the risk of psychiatric problems like depression and anxiety among people with a history of psychiatric problems.
Despite the risks, pharmacists regularly sell these medicines over the counter.
A pharmacist on Shaikh Zayed Road told Gulf News he sells all the drugs over the counter although they are prescription items.
“I sell them over the counter. I sell from 15 to 20 boxes of Accomplia a month. Xenical used to be popular. I sell three to four boxes now. Reductil is more popular now. I sell about 12 boxes a month,” he said.
Another pharmacist in Bur Dubai told Gulf News Xenical, which causes digestive and intestinal side effects, and Reductil, which affects blood pressure and pulse rate, were “big sellers” and were available without a prescription.
Dr Azzan Binbrek, head of cardiology at Rashid Hospital, was especially concerned about Accomplia being sold over the counter. The drug is not approved for sale in the United States because of the psychiatric side effects.
Dalia Aziz, head of communications Sanofi-Aventis (Gulf), which makes Accomplia, warned people against buying the drug over the counter or using their product to lose weight. “It is not an anti-obesity drug. … [The drug is meant to] address a whole cluster of cardio-metabolic diseases, such as diabetes and high cholesterol,” she said.
Officials from the Ministry of Health have told Gulf News they inspect pharmacies periodically, but suffer from a shortage of inspectors.