Weight-loss drug Mediator, which was licensed for use by diabetics and widely prescribed in France to help shed pounds, may have caused at least 1,300 deaths before it was withdrawn, a study published on Thursday by the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research, Inserm, stated.
The study provides a more accurate figure of the number of deaths that probably occurred from the drug, which is known by its lab name benfluorex. The death toll was speculated at between 1,000 and 2,000.
Mahmoud Zureik, of Inserm, co-led the investigation and told AFP that about 3,100 people required hospitalization during the 33 years during which the drug was sold.
The drug was pulled from the European market in 2009 when evidence surfaced that it damaged heart valves and caused pulmonary hypertension.
Mediator was originally licensed for reducing levels of fatty proteins called lipids. There were also claims that the drug helped diabetics control their level of blood sugar. The weight loss drug also suppressed appetite.
The Agence France-Presse has reported that the weight loss drug's French manufacturer, Servier, is being investigated on suspicion of dishonest practices and deception. Some 145 million packets of Mediator were reportedly sold on the French market before the drug was pulled.
Here are four other past drug recalls in the U.S.:
1. Meridia (sibutramine): In 2010, Abbott Laboratories agreed to take its obesity drug off the market because clinical trial studies showed an increased risk of heart attacks and strokes in people who used it. Some eight million people worldwide took the drug, the FDA had said. That figure included 100,000 Americans, according to reports.
2. Fruta Planta: These weight loss dietary supplement pills were recalled after FDA testing confirmed that it contains sibutramine, a drug that was withdrawn from the market in December 2010 for safety reasons. The FDA said it got multiple reports of several cardiac events and one death associated with the pills.
3. Reductil: This was a prescription weight loss drug administered to clinically obese patients with no history of heart disease, according to reports. It was recalled after studies show that it can lead to non-fatal heart attack. More than 330,000 people were reportedly prescribed the drug in 2008 in the UK alone.
4. Metabolife: In May 2001, popular diet drug Metabolife was recalled after many people reported serious health problems associated with their prolonged usage of the drug. Metabolife is a herbal supplement that was taken to increase weight loss. It reportedly burned fat and increased energy levels by speeding up a person's metabolism. The weight loss drug contained ephedra, a plant-based substance that acts as a stimulant. Ephedra reportedly constricts blood vessels and increases heart rate. FDA banned ephedra in 2004.