This weight-loss drug has gotten some doctors in trouble

Phentermine is said to be the best-selling diet drug in America, approved nearly 60 years ago for weight loss and still widely prescribed at weight-loss clinics.

Physicians like phentermine because of its record for safety as well as its affordability. However, like any stimulant, it’s not recommended for some people, including pregnant women or those with hypertension and a history of heart disease. It also can cause troubling side effects such as insomnia and mood changes.

That's why by law, it can’t be prescribed without a thorough examination, and federal authorities around the country have successfully prosecuted physicians for prescribing it improperly.

The AJC found at least eight cases in which physicians have been ensnared in criminal prosecutions for prescribing the drug without examining patients. Among them,  a Utah doctor was sentenced to three years in prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy to distribute phentermine and conspiracy to commit money laundering. A 76-year-old Pennsylvania doctor accused of distributing massive quantities of the diet pills was sentenced to a year in federal prison.

And in one particularly notable case, a Miami pharmacist received a nine-year prison sentence after orchestrating a scheme in which doctors wrote prescriptions for phentermine based on the answers to brief questionnaires submitted online. One of those who obtained the drug, a 46-year-old Texas woman, died of an overdose.

Until recently, Georgia Bariatrics’ website allowed people to purchase the prescription drug phentermine by registering to be a patient and then filling out an online questionnaire. As the AJC was investigating, the website changed to say that to buy the drug, you must be a patient and visit the office.

But an AJC investigation found that some people who obtained phentermine from a Georgia doctor never set foot in her door.

Read our investigation here to see how we got the diet drug:

The AJC also found that no action has been taken against the doctor in question, who has active medical licenses in Georgia and Alabama.

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About the Author

Danny Robbins
Danny Robbins
Danny Robbins in an investigative reporter for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.