A landmark trial over one of France’s biggest healthcare scandals has begun after a weight-loss pill was believed to have killed up to 2,000 people and left many more injured for life. The Guardian reports that the trial for manslaughter and deceit will attempt to lift the lid on France’s massive pharmaceuticals industry.
Servier, one of France’s biggest and most powerful privately-owned laboratories, is accused of covering up the killer side-effects of a widely prescribed drug called Mediator. The French state drug regulator is accused of lenience and not acting to prevent patient deaths and injuries.
The Mediator pill was an amphetamine derivative marketed to overweight diabetics but it was often prescribed to healthy women as an appetite suppressant if they wanted to lose a few pounds. Even healthy, slim and sporty women were prescribed it by their doctors who advised they should take it in order to avoid weight gain.
The report says as many as 5m people were given the drug between 1976 and 2009, despite the fact that it was suspected of causing heart and pulmonary failure. The health ministry found at least 500 people died of heart valve trouble in France because of exposure to Mediator’s active ingredient, but other estimates by doctors put the figure closer to 2,000. Thousands more live with debilitating health problems.
The trial will seek to establish why the drug was on the market for so long in France. Lawyers argue that Servier laboratory deliberately misled patients for decades, helped by lenient authorities. The drugmaker has been accused of making at least €1bn from the drug, while knowing of its dangers.
The French drug regulator, the Agence National de Sécurité du Médicament, is on trial accused of not taking sufficient steps to check and control the drug. It has been accused of being too slow to act and being too close to pharmaceutical companies. The watchdog has said it would cooperate with the trial and was now abiding by stricter ethics rules.
The report says the scandal has raged for more than a decade, sparking a political row about drugs regulation and the lobbying power of pharmaceutical companies in France, which has one of Europe’s highest levels of consumption of prescription drugs. The vast trial, with 21 defendants and more than 2,600 plaintiffs, will last six months and is set to be one of the longest court cases in Paris for decades.
Servier has said it did not lie about the effects of the treatment and hoped to demonstrate it did not act against patients’ interests.
[link url="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/sep/23/trial-over-weight-loss-pill-behind-up-to-2000-deaths-to-start-in-france"]The Guardian report[/link]