The real dangers of replacing willpower with pill power
Suppose - just suppose - there was a pill that could help you shed 10 percent of your body weight, raise your good cholesterol, and lower your triglycerides. Would you take it?
Don't answer yet. Suppose this same pill could help you shrug off any chemical addictions that might be troubling you - your chain-smoking, your problem drinking. Would you take it now?
Don't answer yet. Suppose this same pill had been tried by 10,000 people, and the only reported side effects were tummy trouble and depression. Would you take it now?
The reason I ask, gentlemen, is that there really is such a pill. It's called Acomplia, and if it lives up to a fraction of its promise, you may actually have to decide whether or not to take it.
Let's get one thing straight, right at the top: Acomplia, as of press time, isn't yet on the market. And, in any case, it's nothing like that miracle potion in The Nutty Professor that transformed Eddie Murphy from blimp-butted Sherman Klump into slim hipster Buddy Love. The majority of people who used Acomplia in clinical trials lost at least 5 percent of their body weight in a year, but almost no one lost much more than 10 percent.
Still, the medication could help millions of people resist their most self-destructive cravings and, at the same time, fine-tune their metabolisms. What's more, Acomplia could well be just the first of a whole new class of drugs that work by taking advantage of one of the most intriguing biological discoveries of the past 20 years: the endocannabinoid system.
Larger Than Lipitor
So, what do you think now? Would you take it?
"I would," says Peter VanOoyen. In fact, he probably already has. VanOoyen had been trying to quit smoking for 17 years when he saw an ad in a West Virginia paper for a clinical trial of Acomplia and signed up. He may have received a placebo, but he doubts it. "I'd tried everything," he says. "Nicotine patch, nicotine gum, cold turkey. I started on that pill, and I quit within 6 days. No side effects. Cigarettes just didn't taste right anymore."
And there's more: Most smokers really pack on the lard after quitting. But not VanOoyen. "I didn't gain an ounce," he says delightedly. This is typical of people who quit smoking with Acomplia - some even lose weight.
"I would definitely take it," chimes in Anita Galis, another West Virginian, who struggled with her weight for years before entering a clinical trial. The white capsule she took could also have been a placebo, but she doesn't think so. She experienced absolutely no side effects, lost 20 pounds, and saw her cholesterol improve markedly. Unfortunately, as soon as she stopped taking the capsules, she gained it all back again.
That, too, is typical: Evidently, those who want the full benefits of Acomplia will probably have to take it indefinitely. That's fine with chronic overeaters like Galis. "Oh," she says with gusto, "the second that drug comes out, I'm back on it!"
That reaction presages a glorious payday for Sanofi-Aventis. The French-based company, the third-largest drug manufacturer in the world, has been developing Acomplia since 1992. Financial analysts have giddily predicted sales of $3 billion to $5 billion a year - a blockbuster by any standard. But those analysts assumed that Acomplia would be used merely to treat some of the 60 million Americans who are obese, along with some of the 30 million or so smokers who would like to quit. Now Sanofi-Aventis is suggesting that Acomplia could become "complementary to Lipitor," the cholesterol reducer that is more widely prescribed than any other pill in the United States; $12 billion worth is sold annually.
But here's the catch: No one knows when, or even if, the Food and Drug Administration will approve Acomplia for use by the general public. (The drug is rumored to be on the FDA's agenda for the first half of this year.) Moreover, while nearly all the medical experts interviewed by Men's Health are enthusiastic about Acomplia's potential and expect it to be approved, many of them are urging the public to be cautious about taking it until scientists have had a few more years to study its effects.
"When I was in medical school, there was an adage: 'Every drug has at least two effects - the one you intended and the one you didn't,' " says Harvard medical school professor Jerry Avorn, M.D., author of Powerful Medicines: The Benefits, Risks, and Costs of Prescription Drugs. "It's important to remember that new drugs can be harmful in new ways."
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