Each and every ‘diet pill death’ is one too many.
This week, we’ve heard about the tragic death of Eloise Parry, a 21 year old who drove herself to hospital when she felt unwell after taking diet pills she’d bought online. The dose was fatal and she died on 12 April at the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital.
The toxin, sold online as a fat-burning diet pill, has been attributed to more than 63 deaths worldwide… But how many more people will lose their lives before something changes?
Attempts to classify the substance as ‘Class C’ drugs have failed. They can be bought and sold legally as a fertiliser, therefore the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Authority (MHRA) has no power to prevent its use as a drug because it is not a pharmaceutical.
After deaths that in 2013 were attributed to the same drug that killed Eloise Parry, the FSA launched an education campaign, working with the police and local authorities to stop illegal sales from websites and to remind traders of the penalties for supplying the chemical in the UK.
In October 2013, Caroline Nokes MP, raised the issue in PMQs, calling for urgent action to block the importation of dangerous chemicals sold in capsule form as diet drugs. David Cameron responded by promising to look at “whether further legislative or regulatory action can be taken in order to protect people from substances that may be safe in other circumstances, but should not be marketed in this way”.
I’m not sure what happened with that promise…
This most recent death as a result of taking unregulated diet pills may have made headline news, provoked discussion in mainstream media and sent out a massive warning about what can happen, but – and feel free to call me cynical – I worry that even all this coverage won’t change much at all on the grand scheme of things, and worse, could even encourage more people to take risks at the expense of their health, or lives.
It sounds dramatic, but I honestly believe that in all these reports, interviews, discussions and blog pieces, the name of the specific drug that killed these people really doesn’t matter at all and that naming it repeatedly could do more harm than good. Of course, it is done to inform the reader, but in cases such as this, is it really necessary when that in itself could pique the curiosity of just a few who may then act on what they find and add to the already-too-high statistics?
Studies have found that when reporting suicides, mentioning the method and certain descriptions can result in copy-cat behaviour – Samaritan’s media guidelines urge journalists not to name medications or dosages, so I think that logic should apply here too.
In one news report following the death of a young student who had taken diet pills bought online, a chief scientist went into extreme detail about the named drug; how it could be obtained, how it works and even said “If you take them for ‘x’ days, people talk about losing ‘x’ pounds”. Some will read that and follow her, admittedly inadvertent ‘advice’. Because sometimes, dangers matter so much less when there is a promise of something which can’t be achieved otherwise; quick, easy weight loss.
Please know that I’m not talking about young, clueless, unintelligent girls who look up diet pills online because they want to look like Victoria’s Secret models. These people are not stupid, they are victims.
In 2013, Chris Mapletoft died the day after taking his last A-level exam; he’d written an extended essay on nutritional supplements and their effects on the body and his computer showed that he had previously researched the substance that killed him. The same substance killed Sarah Houston, a promising medical student who had also struggled with Bulimia and Depression.
The truth is that in some, if not many cases, there is a calculated risk involved when it comes to taking diet pills or supplements purchased over the internet. We shouldn’t be worrying so much about the name of the chemical, but addressing what it is that drives people to become desperate enough to take pills without even knowing what’s in them. The reality is that people know they could be dodgy, some people know they could be dangerous and some even know that they could kill… but they still take that risk for the sake of losing a few pounds.
It’s that obsession, that sheer need to watch the number on the scale go down, quicker, that we should be worrying about.
I’ve been there and done it myself. I’d seen a documentary which named a certain substance, a banned substance, which was known to speed up the metabolism and result in weight loss. I was severely anorexic at the time and my metabolism had come to an annoying halt; my body was grasping on to whatever nutrition I would allow and I wasn’t losing weight fast enough for my liking. I was starving, exercising and taking laxatives, but it wasn’t enough. I would have tried anything, and I did. The pills I bought stank, and that, whilst knowing that they also caused dizziness, fainting, heart palpitations and risk of cardiac arrest, was what bothered me the most about taking them. I’d feel my heart jumping all over the place whenever I took them, but as long as it meant I was getting smaller, I didn’t care.
Thankfully I’m not in that place now and haven’t been there for a long time, but too many people will be and more people will die as a result, not of the drug, but of desperation.
There is no antidote for the drug, but we can work with desperation.