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Fen-phen diet was effective

Christina Proctor

The walls of Jill Jones’ home are lined with pictures of her four children but none of herself. Jones, 36, like millions of Americans has suffered with a weight problem all of her life.

She tried different methods, including Weight Watchers and Nutri System. She once lost more than 50 pounds, only to gain it all back.

It wasn’t until she received a doctor’s prescription a combination of diet drugs known as the fen-phen diet that Jones lost weight and kept it off successfully.

“The drugs enabled me to do what I needed to do,” Jones said. “They made food uninteresting. It was amazing.”

Jones started taking a combination of either Redux (dexfenfluramine) and Pondimin (fenfluramine) with phentermine in April 1996. In nine months she lost 55 pounds. She weaned herself from the medication in December 1996 because she no longer felt the drugs were effective.

The government recall of Redux and Pondimin Monday caused mixed reactions among members of the South Lake Tahoe health care community and patients. Phentermine, the other drug in the widely publicize fen-phen diet, is still being endorsed by the Food and Drug Administration. The voluntary recall by drug manufacturer Wyeth-Ayerst Laboratories was initiated in response to findings by the Mayo Clinic and additional reports by the FDA that abnormal echocardiogram findings were reported in 92 of 291 subjects. The patients were treated with Pondimin or Redux for up to 24 months, most often in combination with phentermine.

Garnet Carlson, a pharmacist with Payless Drugs, said the drugs were widely prescribed by South Shore doctors. He carried about 1,000 tablets of each drug in stock and the supply was replenished every two weeks.

“Almost every office in town had a few patients on it,” Carlson said. “And some doctors that used it a lot became very popular.

“But, none of the doctors ever put several refills on one prescription,” he added. “All of the doctors conducted monthly follow-ups. They used the drugs conservatively.”

Jones said she had many friends on the fen-phen diet who had mixed results.

“Some were expecting the pounds to melt away without changing their habits,” Jones said. “The truth is only 2 percent of people who lose weight on any weight loss program keep it off. Losing this weight has improved my quality of life. I grew up in Lake Tahoe but I’ve done more hiking this summer than I ever have before in my life. This is the first summer I’ve gone to the beach with my kids. I’m really glad I got on it before the recall.”

Dr. Maria Pielaet, of Sierra Family Care, said the fen-phen combination worked well in suppressing her overweight patients appetite with little to no adverse side effects.

“There has not been a good study done to date that shows these drugs cause damage to heart valves,” Pielaet said. “I had five patients who had a echocardiogram before treatment and after and they had no abnormalities.”

Pielaet also pointed out that in 1996 there were 18 million prescriptions for the fen-phen diet in America.

“This was not a controlled study and when you look at the number of cases compared to the number of prescriptions it is small,” Pielaet said. “I want to see the studies, but until then it’s good that they are being conservative.”

Dr. Richard Peterson, of Tahoe Urgent Care, agreed with Pielaet’s call for study.

“Even though they have just followed a few patients I am concerned about the reports,” Peterson said. “It’s best the drugs were pulled until further study.”

Peterson said his patients on combinations of the diet drugs have generally had good results with no serious side effects. He pointed out that the drugs were designed to be a jump start to weight loss for patients who are 20 to 30 percent more than their ideal body weight – not for cosmetic weight loss.

“The drugs were never designed to be a long-term solution,” Peterson said. “Like any weight loss program they don’t work without a change in diet and exercise habits.”

Peterson said until further information is available he will be prescribing the old standby for weight loss – diet and exercise.


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