Controversial drugs that claimed to help consumers deal with chronic, life altering diseases are nothing new, but the fact that the FDA has approved a weight loss drug, and that GlaxoSmithKline has went out of their way to utilize social-networking technologies and other multimedia content to promote the same types of drugs that years ago, in 1992 they were quick to warn consumers about through an online brochure “The Facts About Weight Loss Products and Programs” has a few people questioning what on the surface looks to be a 180 degree turn. For years, the use of weight loss products were an “at your own risk” type of endeavor; the new frontier for desperate dieters who were willing to do anything to loose weight, even if that meant abusing pills that weren’t taken as suggested, or for uses other than dieting once the original weight loss goals were set, as many of these new drugs turned out to be legal amphetamines. if nothing else, individuals who took diet drugs were stigmatized and singled out, and the only real campaigns to sell these drugs were through the series of commercials that Anna Nicole Smith did for Trimspa. These days, GlaxoSmithKline is marketing it’s new drug, Alli (Orlistat) through a well produced online campaign which include myalli.com, a website that stresses that the drug can help an individual loose over 50% more weight than dieting alone for the first weight loss drug that is FDA approved. There is a community message board, and articles such as the alli experience – your will, our power; but consumers may not know that this drug is the same as Xenical, a drug distributed by Roche years ago.
It should also be noted that there are key differences between the weight loss drugs such as that inherent in Alli and that in Trimspa and other popular drugs of the last twenty years. For one, Alli does not claim to be an appetite suppressant or any type of drug that burns fat quicker or more efficiently, which many drug manufacturers had claimed that their drugs had during that time. Alli is being marketed towards a smarter, savvy and sophisticated consumer who has probably taken many of those drugs that were later found out to be controversial, as well as individuals who wouldn’t normally take a diet pill, but are looking for something extra to assist them in their endeavours, sort of how athletes are acculturated to steroids. Xenical, the Roche incarnation of Orlistat was approved by the FDA back in 1999, just not for over-the-counter use. The way that Orlistat works is by enabling the user to excrete unabsorbed fat through the stool, and users will notice a decrease in the efficiency of fat soluble vitamins, so they’ll want to take extra doses of A,D,E,K and beta-carotine to make up for the difference. If nothing else the Alli ad campaigns are showing us how Orlistat has come into its own and is no longer a weight-loss drug that was the focus of controversy and lawsuits just years earlier; in fact, it sort of erases any knowledge of the history of the drug as they are remarketing an old drug to newer consumers. It is interesting that the myalli website encourages individuals to “start the revolution” and that they can receive a copy of “are you loosing it” from their local drugstore, for literature written from the point of view that individuals often loose their minds in order to loose weight. You have to respect GSK’s marketing plan, because it turns weight loss into a fun activity with all of the chic of counterculturalism and the support of social networks to help you get through the tough times.
From what I can tell, the only real solace that can be found in Alli is that it does not contain the amphetamines that people tend to get strung out on that are found in most diet pills, and if you’re that concerned, the drug itself was been approved 8 years ago. You can still regain the weight if your lifestyle does not change, and you refuse to exercise and change your eating habits. Though some individuals may question the FDA approving this drug for over-the-counter use, we can only hope that dieters will have the sense to take the drug as required without expecting more that what the drug is capable of, which could lead to some rather bizarre cases of abuse. While the ethics of the government approving a drug that could open up the door for enabling consumers to even do so are questionable, Alli could set a precedent for the way in which what some may view as the changing role of the government in protecting the consumers from themselves takes place.