"GULLIBLE" Australians are buying dodgy and potentially deadly diet pills online, despite warnings about the dangers.
On the weekend an Irish teenager was rushed to hospital with possible organ failure and had to have her colon removed after she took “herbal” diet pills containing sibutramine to slim down for a holiday. Sibutramine – which can also cause heart attacks and stroke – is being marketed directly to Australians online for as little as $1.49 a pill, promising to “instantly reduce excess body weight”. One website even suggests it could be the answer to the Australian obesity problem.
Sibutramine was available in Australia on prescription until 2010, when it was withdrawn from sale after a study uncovered the dangers.
Public health expert Adjunct Professor Ken Harvey, from LaTrobe University, pointed out that the Therapeutic Goods Administration has reams of warnings about dodgy diet pills, but said it was impossible to stop people with a “gullible streak” buying up online. Prof Harvey warned that most of the time pills bought online from overseas were doctored with dangerous ingredients such as sibutramine, lead, or mercury, or contained no active ingredients at all.
“The basic message … is never ever ever purchase drugs from the internet because there’s a very high probability that they’ll be substandard, counterfeit or adulterated and that’s a major health concern,” he said, adding that there were reputable Australian pharmacies online but it was important to check them out thoroughly. “You can’t expect any national regulator to really control people’s behaviour if they want to purchase these things. “I don’t think people realise the level of problems here. If it sounds too good to be true it probably is too good to be true.”
Prof Harvey published an opinion piece on how the TGA deals with complaints, and pointed out that it took well over a year for them to act on a different “shonky” diet product. “(The belated action on FatBlaster Reducta) is merely the latest example of the ongoing failure of the TGA and similar regulatory bodies to protect consumers from the claims made by those promoting and selling shonky “complementary medicines”,” he wrote on The Conversation. Last year the NSW Food Authority seized 15,000 units of slimming products from China containing sibutramine. The drug was hidden in coffee and chocolate products.
Prof Harvey said the other danger zone was Chinese medicines sold for erection problems, which can also be adulterated with dangerous chemicals. The TGA website lists dozens of weight loss products and ‘erection enhancers’ that pose health risks, including Miraculous Evil Root and Rock Hard for Men, which are marketed as herbal but contain prescription-only products such as Viagra or Cialis. “Some have no active ingredients, or they have things that can do you harm. It’s a minefield,” Prof Harvey said.