More products added to diet pill alert

The Food and Drug Administration is adding 41 products to an alert about tainted diet pills issued late last month, bringing the total to 69, officials said Wednesday.

"I think it's fair to say that we have a major initiative investigation ongoing into this type of product," Michael Levy, director of the division of new drugs and labeling compliance at the FDA, said in an interview. "We are buying these products, and we are testing them, and we are considering what our options are. There is definitely the possibility that there could be criminal charges."

The pills, which use undeclared drugs that may pose a risk, include:

*Sibutramine, the active ingredient in the FDA-approved weight-loss drug Meridia. It's a controlled substance that can cause seizures, heart attack or stroke.

*Rimonabant, the active ingredient in Acomplia, a diet pill that failed to win FDA approval and has been withdrawn in Europe.

*Phenytoin, an anti-seizure medication, and phenolphthalein, a suspected carcinogen.

Some of the additions to the FDA alert, to be posted by this morning, also contain the diuretic bumetamide, says Ann Metayer, a lawyer in Levy's division. New Orleans Saints offensive lineman Jamar Nesbet was suspended for four games last fall when he tested positive for bumetamide after taking a now-recalled weight-loss pill called StarCaps.

Levy wouldn't reveal how many reports the FDA has received of problems linked to unapproved diet pills, though he did say the number probably underrepresents the actual total. A "large majority" -- but not all -- of the pills are made in China, Metayer says.

Consumers should beware of pills promising effortless weight loss, Levy says. "When you're buying this type of product on the Internet or at a retail store, and it appears too good to be true, it likely is too good to be true."

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