Wave of ‘Brazilian’ Diet Pills Puts Consumers at Risk

So-called “Brazilian diet pills,” despite their possibly dangerous ingredients and unknown manufacturers have become incredibly popular based on reports that they are responsible for people losing  as much as 20 pounds in three weeks.

The Miami Herald has been following this story and it appears from yesterday’s report by John Dorschner that this situation is becoming serious.

Unfortunately, customers purchasing these pills are playing Russian roulette with their health since the pills, sold under the names Emagrece Sim and Herbathin, have become infiltrated with look-alikes, counterfeits, and bogus versions containing potentially harmful ingredients.

As a result of their enormous popularity, the Emagrece Sim pills have triggered a series of copycats that claim to use ”all-natural ingredients”  Some of these “other” pills have tested positive for amphetamines and tranquilizers, which are illegal substances in non-prescription drugs.

There is also no quality control with respect to the various look-alikes. Thus, no one is really sure what is in any of them despite their appearing to be the same as the “real” pills. 

 The pills are always sold in identical-looking white bottles with an orange or yellow top and with labels that, almost always, do not identify a distributor or manufacturer. They are available on the internet and on street corners from people with beepers.

The matter is currently under investigation by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Last spring the agency accused the Brazilian manufacturer, Fytoterapicos, which claims to be the original creator of Emagrece Sim, of improper labeling. Emagrece Sim labels were written entirely in Portuguese.

As for the question of what exactly the drugs contain, Fytoterapicos’s lawyer, Mitchell Fuerst said his clients maintain that their product contains no amphetamines or generic Prozac.

Although the company’s product has tested positive for these prohibited substances, Fuerst claims the false positive may have been the result of the fact that the legal dietary supplement, L-tryptophan , which is contained in the drug, can sometimes cause this anomaly.

According to Terry Hall of Toxicology Testing Service, which performs tests on the diet drugs, however, no such error was made. Hall said his lab does not confuse L-tryptophan and amphetamines. He believes his lab tests including results that found illegal substance in Emagrece Sim pills are correct. “We didn’t confuse anything.”

However, Fuerst said he has identified over a dozen “counterfeiters and copycats” of Emagrece Sim. So it is difficult to pinpoint the presence of illegal substances to the Fytoterapicos product in particular.

Another manufacturer of Emagrece Sim, Sergio M. Nuñez, president of Johnson’s Pharmaceuticals, obtained a trademark for the name last summer, when he found out the drug was not officially trademarked in the U.S.

His pills, which say Johnson’s Pharmaceuticals on the bottle label, supposedly contain the original ”all-natural” ingredients frequently listed on the drug’s bottles. He claims no illegal substances are used in the pills but would not reveal where they are manufactured.

In addition to finding illegal substances in Emagrece Sim, Toxicology Testing Service also found amphetamines and the tranquilizer benzos in the spin-off diet pill Herbathin.

Herbathin is sold on the internet at herbathin.com and emagrece.com. The sites describes Emagrece Sim as ”a thing of the past” and Herbathin as “the magical pill.” It claims they have imitators, and it’s possible that some of the some of the counterfeits contain amphetamines.

According to the site, Herbathin is shipped from West Kendall and manufactured in the Brazilian lab that makes Emagrece Sim.
Fuerst, the lawyer for Fytoterapicos, disputed this claim, stating that Herbathin has nothing to do with the company. Herbathin, owned in part by Robert M. Schnur, did not respond to requests for comment from the Miami Herald.

The FDA is trying to prohibit the sale of diet pills that contain amphetamines and tranquilizers. Although the agency is attempting to prevent the Fytoterapicos product from entering the United States, Fuerst reports that large quantities of Emagrece Sim were making their way through customs.

He said that the largest amount was coming from Venezuela but that many pills also came from Colombia and Mexico. They may be getting through by being mislabeled as vitamins.

For consumers, accidentally taking a counterfeit pill that contains illegal drugs has serious consequences. In some cases it has led to positive drug tests at work.  In other instances, it caused physical problems such as yellow skin and swelling of the face.

In extreme cases, however, amphetamines can be very dangerous for people with heart problems since they cause blood pressure to increase.

Despite the highly questionable safety of the product, and although buyers often don’t know exactly what they are getting, the “drugs” sell for as much as $140 to $230 for a month’s supply. This promise of a “magic pill” is scheme which will only hurt the consumer in the end and may even have deadly consequences for some.

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