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GPs warn over side effects of OTC weight-loss drugs

By Lilian Anekwe

Experts are split over the public health benefits of the sale in pharmacies of two new weight-loss drugs.

The weight-loss drugs have gone on sale in pharmacies for the first time this week, but some experts have warned the diet pills are far from the ‘magic bullet' obese patients are hoping for.

GSK, the manufacturers of one of the drugs, alli - generic name orlistat - claim it prevents 25% of digested fat from being absorbed and stored by the body. Patients in clinical trials have achieved weight losses of up to 10% of their body weight.

Pharmacists are required to register patients buying alli to a weight loss programme, and provide dietary and weight loss advice. GSK says that if patients strictly adhere to the programme they can expect to lost 50% more weight than they would lose through dieting alone.

The drug will go on sale tomorrow at a recommended retail price of £49.95 for 84 capsules and £32.05 for 42 capsules. The licence indicates users – who must have a BMI over 28 kg/m2 – take the pills three times a day for a maximum of six months.

The Royal College of GPs warned that the drugs side effects, which can include severe diarrhoea, may discourage patients from taking the drug for prolonged periods.

RCGP chair Professor Steve Field said: 'What we've got to do is make sure people don't think a pill is the answer. It works in some people but gives very nasty side effects in others – explosive diarrhoea, severe wind, and some people have said they had to open their bowels without notice.'

A spokesperson for GSK said the side effects could be ameliorated if patients taking alli stuck to the programme's recommended low-fat diet.

A second drug, a seaweed extract called Appesat, also goes on sale this week at £29.95 for 50 capsules. Its manufacturers, Goldshield healthcare, say it acts as an appetite suppressant and it causes no worse side effect than an upset stomach

But the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain said it ‘totally supported' making the drugs available without a prescription.

Director of policy David Pruce said pharmacists were highly visible in their communities and, given they were able to reach people who did not regularly see a GP, were ideally placed to tackle the country's growing obesity problem.

‘Increasingly, pharmacists are offering a greater spectrum of life-style advice, including blood-pressure monitoring, smoking cessation programmes and vascular checks. With orlistat, pharmacists have another service which they can offer to complement existing weight-management advice and treatments.'

alli goes on sale in pharmacies this week alli goes on sale in pharmacies this week

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