Weight-Loss Drug in France May Have Killed 1,300, Study Says

Kim LaCapria

Over the 33 years it was available on the market before the drug Mediator was withdrawn, somewhere between one and two thousand patients may have died from cardiovascular side effects.

A new study co-authored by the National Institute of Health and Medical Research (Inserm) probed the number of estimated hospitalizations and deaths linked to the weight-loss drug- known often by its generic name, benfluorex- estimating the total number of hospitalizations at around 3,100 and deaths at about 1,300, but Inserm concedes that number could be higher. Over three decades, the Mediator was used as an appetite suppressant- intended to control blood sugar in diabetic patients who were obese- but was often prescribed as a general weight-loss drug.

The French drug maker behind the weight-loss drug Mediator, Servier, is being investigated "on suspicion of dishonest practices and deception," and the drug was pulled from the market in 2010 amid evidence it damaged heart valves and caused users to suffer pulmonary hypertension, potentially leading to heart failure. A related drug- fenfluramine, which was marketed as Pondimin, Ponderax and Adifax- was pulled from the market in the late 90's after it was determined that there was a link between use of the medications and heart valve damage, and it was part of the controversial weight-loss drug combo Fen-Phen.

Mediator was widely available in its market between 1976 and 2009, when the weight-loss drug was pulled amid concerns about heart valve damage. 145 million packets of the weight-loss drug were sold during the time it was available, according to the study recently published in the medical journal Pharmacoepidemiology & Drug Safety.