The Deathly Consequences Of Prescription Diet Pills
Following the arrest of a doctor whose patient died of a heart attack after taking amphetamine diet pills, experts explain why the minimal rewards aren’t worth the serious risks.
This week, a former doctor in Queens, NYC, was arrested for allegedly buying and selling amphetamine diet pills between 2013 and 2015, while his license was suspended. The ex-doc had his medical license revoked in 2013 for “dangerous prescribing practices and several instances of negligence,” CBS New York reports. One of the people he sold the drugs to illegally was a 65-year-old woman with a pre-existing heart condition who later died of a heart attack.
“Amphetamine is usually a very popular ingredient in diet pills,” Jackie Baumrind, M.S., C.D.N., a dietician at Selvera Wellness, tells SELF. That’s because it increases heart rate and metabolism and suppresses appetite, which makes it effective for losing weight quickly. It also makes them extremely risky, and especially dangerous for those with a history of heart problems.
“These pills increase your heart rate and blood pressure,” Nieca Goldberg, M.D., cardiologist and director of the Joan H. Tisch Center for Women’s Health at NYU Langone Medical Center, tells SELF. “For people prone to heart arrhythmias, it can cause you to go into cardiac arrest.” While we don’t know the exact heart problems this woman had, Goldberg says that for anyone, a history of heart disease or hypertension or stroke is a red flag that they are not a candidate for diet pills. Her age, 65, also puts her more at risk for cardiac problems with amphetamine use than someone who is younger.
But is anyone ever really a candidate for diet pills? “In the right setting, if a physician felt the benefits outweighed the risks—like for someone who is very obese and their inability to tackle it is so severe that it’s affecting many other parts of their health—that would be the only time I could fathom someone needing [diet pills],” Baumrind says. “But you’d want that to be under serious medical supervision.” These drugs require a prescription for a reason:They come with big risks and should always be taken under supervision.
Diet pills can also interact with other medications. Baumrind notes that speeding up the metabolism could interfere with how the body metabolizes other things, messing with medication dosage. Amphetamine is also life-threatening when combined with alcohol. “Even caffeine could potentiate some arrhythmia problems,” Goldberg adds. In addition, amphetamines can cause delirium, panic, and psychosis.
While Goldberg says deaths from diet pills happen from time to time, it’s much less common today than in decades past. Doctors aren’t prescribing amphetamine-based diet pills as much, because they’ve realized the benefits usually don’t outweigh the risks. Plus, advancements in weight-loss surgery has made that a better (read: safer and more lasting) option for those who need to lose weight for medical reasons. Bottom line: “There are safer ways for people to undergo weight loss,” says Goldberg.
“But with the promise of weight loss, there’s a lot of money to be made. People are very desperate to lose weight,” Baumrind says. So some doctors (hopefully not many) may prescribe these for the wrong reasons. If a doctor is quick to write you a script for diet pills, and never sits down to discuss your medical history, family history, the risks associated with amphetamine-based pills, and what other options are out there, go get another opinion. A quick fix is tempting, but it’s not worth your life.
Plus, the benefits of diet pills are fleeting. “You can see benefits, but once you get off the pill, it resets. It’s not a lifestyle change, it’s a little band-aid,” says Baumrind. “If you’re adopting a healthy lifestyle, that’s a forever change and you can stick with it.” Though it won’t happen immediately, lifelong results that will benefit your health overall are always the better choice over a temporary fix that can put your life in danger.