A weight-loss drug banned in Abu Dhabi but available over the counter in Dubai could cause heart problems and psychological damage, doctors have warned. They urged Abu Dhabi residents not to stock up on Reductil, an appetite-suppressant, in the neighbouring emirate. The drug was banned in Europe in January after a study found that its active ingredient, Sibutramine, could lead to cardiovascular problems. Health Authority-Abu Dhabi (HAAD) followed with its own ban four days later.
However, it remains widely available without a prescription in Dubai pharmacies. Dr Manal Elnenaei, a senior registrar at the obesity clinic at King's College Hospital in London who has worked with patients taking Reductil and seen its side-effects, warned of its potentially hazardous side-effects. "Patients with pre-existing psychological conditions reported exacerbation in these conditions," she said. "It also causes hypertension [high blood pressure] and heart-related problems."
Dr Ali Damanhouri, a doctor at Tawam Hospital in Al Ain, approved of the ban, saying it should be extended to other emirates. "This medication affects many nerves, which in turn affects many systems in the body," he said. "The patient would not only lose appetite, but could also suffer from other problems - and cardiovascular problems are not something to take lightly." Despite the warnings, some slimmers appeared determined to keep using the drug. Many made trips to Dubai purely to buy the drug, while others bought it there to resell in Abu Dhabi. "Reductil is the best slimming pill," said TD, a 34-year-old mother who lives in Abu Dhabi and recently went to Dubai to buy six 28-capsule packs of Reductil.
"I have tried them all. I don't have time to exercise or even consider going on a diet but this medication fixes all my problems." She added: "Friends, and friends of friends, often ask me to buy them Reductil when I go to Dubai, so I do. Some even ask me to bring it back to them in the UK. "I buy in bulk because I don't go to Dubai very often, and who knows when it will be banned there too." AS, 18, from Al Ain, said Reductil had been recommended to her diabetic sister. "She was told she should take this medication," she said. "I used to buy it for her. I am quite underweight so I was surprised when the pharmacy let me buy four packs at once."
Some pharmacy chains, including Bin Sina Pharmacy, have withdrawn the drug from their branches in Abu Dhabi, while leaving it on sale in Dubai. Dr Shadi Ahmed, a Jordanian pharmacist at the Al Ain branch of Bin Sina, said: "When I used to sell Reductil, no one reported any side effects. No one had a problem with it. "The ban seems a bit harsh. Restrictions in dispensing might have been better, just to control who can take the drug depending on weight and medical condition.
"Obviously, though, as soon as we get orders we carry them out immediately. "Some still come in and ask for the drug. We just tell them we don't sell it anymore in the Al Ain and Abu Dhabi branches." Despite the ban it's not illegal to be in possession of Reductil in Abu Dhabi, according to the health authority. Some, including Eiman Mohamed, a Sudanese 29-year-old who lives in Al Ain, said they had used the drug without side effects, and thought the ban was an over-reaction.
"The only thing I experienced after taking this drug was insomnia," she said. "Everything else was fine and it helped me to go from a size 16 to a size 12." The health authority advised caution in taking any diet pill. "People who are planning to take weight reduction medication should consult first with the physician, especially if they have pre-existing medical conditions such as diabetes or heart disease" said Dr Yasser Sharif, head of medication safety at HAAD.