Prof discusses monitoring

John Adams

Using the example of the formerly popular, but now defunct diet pill combination fenfluramine and phentermine, assistant professor Richard Kingston spoke Tuesday about how nutritional supplement nightmares such as Fen-Phen could be avoided.
The assistant professor in the College of Pharmacy, who is also a vice president at the International Poison Center, spoke in the Food Science and Nutrition building about the possibilities of introducing a market surveillance system to monitor the long-term effects of such drugs.
“Most of the public think there is a tremendous amount of safety behind these supplements or nutraceuticals. That is mostly true, but what is going unnoticed?” Kingston said.
In a move that eventually removed the drug from the market in September of 1997, doctors traced 24 heart abnormalities in patients who were taking Fen-Phen, five of whom required open-heart surgery. Since the release of the drug in 1992, 5.6 million Americans used Fen-Phen, and of those about 1 million could still potentially suffer adverse side affects, Kingston said.
The discovery of the health hazards Fen-Phen poses is credited to health officials who noticed a trend in these health problems among Fen-Phen users. But that coincidence often takes years to be traced.
Fen-Phen was introduced in 1992, but it was not until 1997 that doctors gathered enough evidence to form a case to get Fen-Phen off the market. Worldwide the drug was eventually used by 20.6 million people.
Kingston said 60 percent of people who use nutraceuticals never tell their doctor. They think the supplements are safe and thus not important enough to discuss.
Now the manufacturer of Fen-Phen, Wyeth-Ayerst Laboratories, is involved in several lawsuits alleging it should have known the dangers of the drug.
“We need to get the company in the loop right up front to monitor these drugs,” Kingston said.
If the drug companies, health officials and doctors monitor these drugs, future health hazards could be avoided, Kingston said.
“When you have a side effect, you can call the company and fill out a form, but in many companies that form can go anywhere,” he said.