Dying to Lose Weight

superman's fat arse
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A reporter at Bloomberg dropped a line with this story about diet pills in India. What with Indians ballooning (as we all are) there’s something of a demand for weight-loss remedies.

The remedies that make sense (eat less, be a little more physically active, don’t eat processed food, enjoy fresh food more) aren’t terribly popular. Generating far more interest are the solutions that let you carry on eating unhealthily, but where you don’t have to bother trying too hard. The chemical companies have been lining up to provide something like this, a magic regulator of free will that can help take the edge off our food cravings.

Through the cunning use of cannabis, specifically the discovery of how to switch off that part of the brain that makes you crave Mars bars when you’re high, the drug giant Sanofi-Aventis has hit on a billion dollar weight-loss drug: Acompli.

Or so they hoped.

Trouble is that the drug is also linked to depression and suicidal thoughts. So much so that even the famously free-market Food and Drug Administration has prevented it from being sold in the US. The Europeans regulators have, however, allowed it, presumably because Sanofi-Aventis is a European company with many many friends in Brussels. Acompli was also recently certified for use within the British National Health Service presumably because, in Gordon Brown’s Britain, those predisposed to depression already had abundant reason to feel suicidal.

This matters in India because of a law there allowing the reverse-engineering of drugs patented before 1995 (Acompli was patented in 1994). So generic drug manufacturers in India are now churning out vast quantities of Acompli knock-offs under names like Defat and Slimona.

They’re on sale for 12 cents a go, well within the reach of India’s middle class. But the pills can be got without a prescription, without the advice that they have a marked association with psychiatric disorders. One downtown Bangalore pharmacist reports selling a box of Defat a day.

The irony is bitter. The terms India and suicide often appear together on these pages, because India’s farmers are plagued with debt and despair. It’s a bitter sign of the times that India’s farmer suicides will soon by joined by its slimmers’ suicides.