Are the New Generation of Diet Drugs Safe?

rst started losing weight,” Maressa Pyle says, “people would ask, ‘What are you doing?’ In some ways I almost felt like I was cheating—’I’m taking this pill that’s helping me do this thing that I couldn’t do on my own.’ ” Pyle, now 33, had yo-yoed for years on diet and exercise programs. At 5’4″ and 168 pounds, she was close to the government’s definition of obese: a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or above. More than a third of American women fall into this category.

When her ob-gyn suggested that she lose weight if she was serious about getting pregnant, Pyle decided to add the appetite- suppressant drug Contrave to bolster her renewed resolve to work out at the gym and cut excess carbs from her diet. In three months, she got down to 148 pounds. Contrave isn’t a magic pill. Pyle knows—and every medical specialist in the obesity field will tell you—that the meds work, when they work, by making it easier to stick to a diet, not by erasing the merciless reality that to lose weight you must consume fewer calories than you burn.

“If I’m having a crap day and I’m thinking, ‘I want ice cream,’ ” Pyle says, “the medication kind of takes the edge off. But it’s still up to me what I put in my mouth.”

In the past five years, the FDA has approved four new drugs to combat obesity: Qsymia and Belviq in 2012, Contrave and Saxenda in 2014. Pyle is part of a new weight-loss–drug story that many experts thought would never be written: Diet drugs are back, with the government’s stamp of approval, even though the track record of such medications has been nothing short of disastrous.

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