Obesity Drugs Timeline

Obesity has been considered a disease or illness requiring medication by several drug manufacturers. The history of those obesity drugs appears in the chart below, which also lists each drug's status along with the reasons for being discontinued or rejected, where applicable.

Years on the market Drug
Status of drug in United States (as of July 20, 2011)
along with reasons for being discontinued or rejected, if applicable
1892-1980s (~88 years) [1] [2] Thyroid extract Discontinued. Caused hyperthyroidism and other serious side effects.
(4 years) [4] [5]
Dinitrophenol Discontinued. Caused skin rash, cataracts, and neuropathy [1] (sold legally before the FDA gained the authority to regulate drugs in 1938).
(32 years) [6] [7]
Amphetamine Discontinued. Addictive/potential for abuse.
(52+ years) [8]
Phentermine Available by prescription. Can be habit-forming (intended for short-term weight loss). [9]
(52+ years) [8]
Diethylpropion Available by prescription. Can be habit-forming (intended for short-term weight loss). [10]
(Number of years not found)
Rainbow pills
(combination of amphetamine, digitalis and diuretics)
Discontinued. Linked to several deaths.
(24 years) [8] [11]
Fenfluramine (part of the 'fen-phen' drug combination)
Discontinued. Linked to heart valve disease. Phentermine, the other chemical in the 'fen-phen' combination, is still considered safe at low doses (see above).
(1 year) [8] [11]
Redux (dexfenfluramine) Discontinued along with Fenfluramine (see above), a related medication. Linked to heart valve disease.
(13 years) [16]
Meridia (sibutramine) Discontinued. Increased risk of heart attack and stroke. [16]
(12+ years) [12]
Xenical (orlistat) Available by prescription. Can cause serious liver problems, uncontrolled bowel movements, and gas.
(7 years) [13]
Hydroxycut-brand diet supplements Discontinued. Reports of liver damage.

*A "reformulated" Hydroxycut product line was brought to market after the recall and is currently available over-the-counter as of July 20, 2011. [14] [15]
(4+ years) [12]
Alli (orlistat) Available over-the-counter. Lower-dose, over-the-counter version of Xenical (see above).  Can cause serious liver problems, uncontrolled bowel movements, and gas.
Not applicable (rejected by the FDA in June 2007) [17] Acomplia (rimonabant) Rejected. Suspected of causing suicidal thoughts.
Not applicable (rejected by the FDA on Oct. 22, 2010) [18] Lorcaserin Rejected. Possible cancer risk suspected after tumors were found in lab animals.
Not applicable (rejected by the FDA on Oct. 28, 2010) [19]

(combination of topiramate and phentermine)

Rejected. FDA requested more data on heart risks and other issues.
Not applicable (rejected by the FDA on Jan. 31, 2011) [3] Contrave
(bupropion and naltrexone)
Rejected. FDA requested a clinical trial to evaluate heart risks.

The chart above was based primarily on the Feb. 1, 2011, Reuters article titled "Factbox: A Troubled History of Obesity Drugs," with reporting by Julie Steenhuysen, Susan Heavey, Jon Lentz and Lisa Richwine, and editing by Tim Dobbyn and Matthew Lewis, and supplemented with the 19 sources below.

  1. George A. Bray, "Some Historical Aspects of Drug Treatment for Obesity," Pharmacotherapy of Obesity, Ed. John P. H. Wilding, 2008

  2. David S. Weigle, "Pharmacological Therapy of Obesity: Past, Present, and Future," Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, June 2003

  3. "FDA Issues Complete Response to New Drug Application for Contrave(R) for the Management of Obesity," www.orexigen.com, Feb. 1, 2011

  4. "Calories Count: Report of the Working Group on Obesity," www.fda.gov, Mar. 12, 2004

  5. Alok. K. Gupta and Frank L. Greenway, "Safety of Obesity Drugs," Obesity: Epidemiology, Pathophysiology and Prevention, Eds. Debasis Bagchi and Harry G. Preuss, 2007

  6. George A. Bray, "History of Obesity," Obesity: Science to Practice, Eds. Gareth Williams and Gema Frühbeck, 2009

  7. Robert Pool, Fat: Fighting the Obesity Epidemic, 2001

  8. "FDA Approved Obesity Drugs," www.fda.gov (accessed July 21, 2011)

  9. National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCIB), "Phentermine," PubMed Health database, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov, Jan. 1, 2011

  10. National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCIB), "Diethylpropion," PubMed Health database, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov, Sep. 1, 2008
  11. "FDA Announces Withdrawal Fenfluramine and Dexfenfluramine (Fen-Phen)," www.fda.gov, July 7, 2005

  12. "Early Communication about an Ongoing Safety Review Orlistat (Marketed as Alli and Xenical)," www.fda.gov, Aug. 24, 2009

  13. Tse-Ling Fong, MD, et al., "Hepatotoxicity Due to Hydroxycut: A Case Series," American Journal of Gastroenterology, July 2010

  14. Amy Norton, "Hydroxycut Linked to Other Cases of Liver Damage," www.reuters.com, Feb. 12, 2010

  15. Home page, www.hydroxycut.com (accessed July 21, 2011)

  16. Andrew Pollack, "Abbott Labs Withdraws Meridia from the Market," www.NYTimes.com, Oct. 8, 2010

  17. "Akyuz, Sinan 11/16/09 – Warning Letter," www.fda.gov, Nov. 16, 2009

  18. Andrew Pollack, "No F.D.A. Approval for New Diet Pill," www.NYTimes.com, Oct. 23, 2010

  19. Andrew Pollack, "F.D.A. Rejects Qnexa, a Third Weight-Loss Drug," www.NYTimes.com, Oct. 28, 2010