I went to see a French film the other day, called The Girl From Brest. Now, before you get the wrong idea, this was no saucy French farce. It was the deadly serious, true story of how a licensed diabetes drug killed thousands of people – and of one brave woman’s struggle to get the truth about it known.
The “girl from Brest” is Dr Irène Frachon, a lung specialist at the Brest Hospital in Brittany, France. And the drug was benfluorex, launched in 1976 under the trade name Mediator, for controlling blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes. But because one of the drug’s effects was to suppress appetite, it soon became widely prescribed “off label” as a slimming aid.
In 2007, Dr Frachon noticed that she was seeing a worrying number of patients with unexplained heart valve disease, a condition that can lead to heart failure, a heart attack, or stroke. It rang a bell with her because ten years earlier a drug called Isoméride had been withdrawn for causing exactly the same side effects. Dr Frachon found that many of her patients showing these symptoms were taking Mediator – and she was shocked when she discovered that both Mediator and Isoméride were transformed in the body into a substance called norfenfluramine, a chemical known to cause heart problems.
Dr Frachon contacted the company that manufactured Mediator, Servier, who denied the existence of any problem. But, by 2008 she had assembled a large and convincing dossier of evidence against Mediator. She took it to the medicines licensing authority in Paris – but they refused to believe her.
Dr Frachon didn’t give up. Despite being dismissed as a trouble-maker, she continued to badger them. Finally, at the end of 2009, following growing concerns in other countries, the European Medicines Agency banned the use of Mediator in the EU. The drug was never authorised for use in the UK or USA.
But the Mediator scandal didn’t end there. People who had been taking the drug weren’t told why it had been banned and how it may have affected them. So Dr Frachon wrote a book – Mediator 150mg: How many deaths? – and that is when things started to get really nasty, as I shall tell you in my next blog post.Wishing you the best of health,
PhD DHD Nutritionist
for Real Diabetes Truth
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Category: Diabetes News Views