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Thu, Nov 09, 2000 - Page 2 News List

Drug hazard alarm raised

BAD MEDICINE The US removed from circulation drugs containing a potentially stroke-inducing ingredient, leading the Department of Health to issue a warning

By Liu Shao-hua  /  STAFF REPORTER

The Department of Health appealed yesterday to the public to temporarily refrain from using drugs containing phenylpropanolamine (PPA) after the US took steps to remove PPA from all drug products on Monday.

"We need to understand more about the side effects of PPA and let the public know whether Taiwan will ban PPA or not," said Oliver Hu (胡幼圃), director-general of the Bureau of Pharmaceutical Affairs.

The US Food and Drug Administration issued a public health advisory concerning the risk of hemorrhagic stroke -- or bleeding into the brain -- associated with PPA hydrochloride. Scientists at Yale University School of Medicine conducted a study in which researchers found an association between PPA use and strokes in women. An increased risk of hemorrhagic stroke in the three days after taking the medicine was detected among women using the drug for weight control and for nasal decongestion. Men may also be at risk.

Hu said European countries and Japan are also considering the matter, but have not yet followed America in banning drugs with PPA.

"In the interests of public health, we appeal to the public not to use drugs containing PPA before the department's research comes out," he stressed.

According to the department's statistics, there are around 460 drugs for weight loss and colds containing PPA. In the past, all approved diet drugs contained PPA.

The department held a press conference yesterday to announce the approval of a new medicine, Orlistat, as a prescription diet drug that contains no PPA.

"This drug is not over-the-counter and has its side effects. But many people are interested in it. That's why we'd like to remind people to use it with care," said Lee Ming-liang (李明亮), the department's director-general.

Lee said Orlistat can be used for up to two years, but patients need to replenish Vitamins A, D, E and K while taking the drug.

Pregnant women, the elderly and people whose liver, kidney or digestive functions are weak, or whose bile secretion is insufficient are advised not to use Orlistat, Lee said.

"Over 90 percent of users will have gastrointestinal problems and their excrement will become very oily," said Larry Ho (何橈通), a metabolism expert and Dean of National Yang Ming University School of Medicine.

Ho said the resultant flatulence and anal seepage when using the drug could also lead potentially to hygiene problems. The function of Orlistat is to prevent the intestines and stomach from absorbing fat from food. Unabsorbed oil is then excreted from the body.

Ho said clinical experiments in other countries had been conducted to prove the effect of Orlistat. Forty-one people in Taiwan have also tested it. "Average weight loss was around 4kg," Ho said. "But diet control, as well as the drug, plays an important role in losing weight."

"Its optimum effect is to reduce 10 percent of body weight," Ho said. "Any medicine which claims to lose more than 10 percent of weight is misleading customers."

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