Weight-loss drug Meridia pulled from market due to heart attack, stroke risk

Consumer Reports News: October 08, 2010 02:25 PM

The weight loss drug Meridia (sibutramine) has been removed from the market because it has been linked to an increased risk of heart attack and stroke, the Food and Drug Administration said Friday. The FDA alerted doctors to stop prescribing the drug and consumers to stop taking it.

We first warned about the risks of Meridia 12 years ago and recently reiterated that warning last month, so we applaud the FDA's move to protect consumers from this risky medication.

In addition to Meridia, we’ve long advised against taking weight loss drugs and supplements in general because invariably the benefits are marginal and the side effects risky or troublesome. If you need to lose weight, increasing exercise and limiting portion size when it comes to food are better options.

The FDA underscored that advice in a separate announcement Friday that warned consumers to avoid another product called Slimming Beauty Bitter Orange Slimming Capsules. That dietary supplement illegally contains sibutramine—the active ingredient in Meridia. The FDA said it is aware of several reports of people suffering serious side effects from the Slimming Beauty capsules, including elevated blood pressure, headaches, vomiting, and insomnia.

The withdrawal of Meridia was based on a study called SCOUT published in The New England Journal of Medicine last month that found a 16 percent increase in serious heart problems in people taking sibutramine over those taking a placebo pill. Those included non-fatal heart attack, non-fatal stroke, the need to be resuscitated once the heart stopped, and death. To make matters worse, the study also showed that Meridia was barely effective for aiding weight loss. People who took it for an average of nearly 3-1/2 years lost only a small amount of weight compared to people who were given a placebo pill.

Gerald Dal Pan, M.D., director of FDA's Office of Surveillance and Epidemiology, said in a statement, "These results, combined with other available safety data raised serious questions about Meridia’s safety for all patient groups."

Steve Mitchell, associate editor, Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs

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