Diet Drug Kills Thousands


How slim French women may have paid for their figures with their lives as 'miracle' diet drug is 'linked to deaths of thousands'

French people had been using the potential killer drug for 30 years

A 'miracle' slimming pill may have killed thousands of people in France and could become the worst health scandal in the nation's history. The drug Mediator was prescribed to up five million people, originally to overweight diabetes sufferers, from its launch in 1979 until it was banned last year. And for 30 years it was also used as an appetite-suppressing drug by thousands of healthy men and women, with its cost even subsidised by the French healthcare system. But a forthcoming official report is now warning that it may be linked to the deaths of up to 2,000 people and caused heart problems in 3,500 more.

Paris government scientists claim the active ingredient in Mediator, called benflourex, could have caused thickening of the heart valves, fatigue, breathlessness - and had no effect at all on weight loss. Politicians and successive health ministers are now under pressure to answer why they ignored repeated warning from experts that the drug could be highly dangerous.

One French press investigations has alleged there was a campaign of intimidation and disinformation by Servier, France's second largest drugs company, to keep their highly lucrative product on the market. French daily Liberation said anonymous threats were sent to researchers who criticised another drug called Isomeride, similar to Mediator, which was on sale in the U.S.

President Nicolas Sarkozy himself once worked for the company as a lawyer before going into politics. Sarkozy awarded Servier's founder Dr Jacques Servier France's highest medal the Legion d'Honneur just a year before his drug was taken off the market.

Mediator was only banned after a study in April 2009 by lung specialist Dr Irene Frachon, which linked it to scores of patients with otherwise unexplained heart valve problems.

One study into the drug leaked to Le Figaro newspaper has now put the possible death toll at between 1,000 and 2,000 people. Mediator was prescribed to up to 5 million people since 1979 before being banned last year.

French Health Minister Xavier Bertrand has now vowed to launch an investigation into why his predecessors over the past 30 years could have had lethal side effects. Even he as health minister in 2006 agreed to maintain the 65 per cent refund to patients who bought the drug.

Martine Aubry and Bernard Kouchner, both former socialist health ministers, say they do not remember warnings over Mediator. Mr Bertrand has now announced: 'Our message to all those who took Mediator is that they must see a doctor - particularly those who took it for three months over the past four years.'

Le Figaro said lawyers nationwide were now planning to sue Servier for criminal negligence and involuntary murder in a huge medical 'class action' case. President Sarkozy said last week: 'The public deserves no less than total transparency in this matter.'

By Ian Sparks


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