See the FDA's Photo Gallery of Alli Diet Drug Fakes; It's Triple Trouble for Meridia

Last Updated Jan 21, 2010 12:18 PM EST

GlaxoSmithKline (GSK)'s Alli and Abbott Labs (ABT)'s Meridia -- both diet drugs -- were both the subject of FDA warnings this week for the same reason: sibutramine.

The FDA warned consumers that there's a fake version of Alli on the market. It's filled not with orlistat (the active ingredient in Alli) but with sibutramine, the active ingredient in Meridia.

That's triple-y problematic because the FDA also demanded that Abbott Labs add a bunch of contraindications to Meridia after finding that among some patient groups "cardiovascular events occurred in 11.4% of patients using sibutramine [Meridia] compared to 10% of patients using a placebo." Meridia is now not to be used in anyone with a history of heart trouble. And in Europe, sibutramine was pulled from the market after authorities concluded its risks outweighed its benefits.

The counterfeit Alli is amazingly sophisticated. The FDA released a gallery of pictures (see below) to help consumers tell the difference between the fakes and the real stuff. The differences in the packaging are barely noticeable; the fakes use an eight-figure expiry date whereas the real thing has only a four-figure date stamp, for instance.

Other differences include:

  • Outer cardboard packaging missing a "Lot" code;
  • Packaging in a plastic bottle that has a slightly taller and wider cap with coarser ribbing than the genuine product;
  • Plain foil inner safety seal under the plastic cap without any printed words; the authentic product seal is printed with "SEALED for YOUR PROTECTION";
  • Contains larger capsules with a white powder, instead of small white pellets.