By Robyn Scott
A SLIMMING pill, which works by preventing fat absorption, could soon be hitting pharmacies in Northern Ireland. The company behind the drug is currently seeking the approval of the European medicines regulator.
Since the summer, the GlaxoSmithKlein product, known as â€˜Alliâ€™ in the United States, has been sold over the counter in America to anyone seeking to lose a few pounds. With no prescription required to purchase the drug it is possible for most people, whether overweight or not, to get their hands on it.
This has led Alex Sugarman-Brozen, the director of US consumer group Prescription Access Litigation (Pal), to criticise Alli and to give it Palâ€™s â€˜Bitter Pill Awardâ€™ because he believes it is being sold irresponsibly.
Sugarman-Brozen is particularly concerned teenagers or people with eating disorders might abuse the drug. US medical professionals have also commented about possible misuse.
Belfast pharmacist, John Cowley, admits he would not be â€˜â€˜overly happyâ€™â€™ to sell the pills but points out that it remains the individualâ€™s own decision what medication they purchase.
In America, the under-25â€™s certainly seem to have taken to the drug , the official website of the Alli, myalli.com, has a whole thread created for young users.
One 18 year-old posted: â€˜â€˜I just want to lose all this fat. My mom and sister have superfast metabolisms and are skinny as models, whereas I am the complete opposite.â€™â€™ Another young woman simply wrote: â€˜â€˜I’m just tired of being fat and want to do something about it.â€™â€™
A-level student, Ashley Scott, believes many teenagers today put too much pressure on themselves to be thin, particularly because they feel they must compete with their peers. This can make them turn to quick fixes like Alli.
Celebrities, who constantly find themselves in the public eye, also seem to be vulnerable to the allure of dieting pills. In 2003 Britney Spears was pictured at Heathrow airport with what appeared to be slimming tablets falling from her bag, although she later claimed they were another drug.
In trials, Alli has proven to be of some help to dieters if they also limit their calorie intake and get regular exercise. However, Sugerman-Brozan argues any additional weight-loss on the pills is â€˜â€˜quite minimalâ€™â€™.
On top of this, GlaxoSmithKlein acknowledges their drug has several unfortunate side-effects. In America, Alli has been blamed for causing gas, bloating and â€˜leakageâ€™. Users have also complained of tiredness and oily bowel movements.
All embarrassing enough but perhaps more worryingly the drug can also limit the amount of essential vitamins A, D, E, K and beta-carotene absorbed into the body, negatively impacting the individualâ€™s health even as they lose pounds.
Consumers seem to have paid little attention to the problems, however. In America, just five weeks after its launch, sales of the drug had reached more than $155 million.
If given approval the drug will shortly be in our chemists as well, although it remains to be seen whether it will fly off the shelves as it did in the US.
By Robyn Scott