Inconsistent Demand for Dieter's Little Helper

As Alli, the first over-the-counter diet drug approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration begins to arrive in drugstores and pharmacies around the country, retailers are reporting uneven demand for the product.

An article in today's Los Angeles Times reported that the GlaxoSmithKline product sparked a "feeding frenzy" in stores from Santa Monica to the San Fernando Valley.

But while some pharmacists around the country reported high demand for the product -- in some cases before it reached their stores -- others reported that boxes were sitting on shelves untouched.

"We have had requests; we don't have a product yet," said Bill Prather, owner of the Blue Ridge Pharmacy in Blue Ridge, Ga.

He said questions from eager consumers about Alli, which blocks the absorption of some of the fat consumed by those taking it, began coming in as soon as the FDA approved the drug back in February.

Other stores had the opposite situation.

"We actually just got it in today. We haven't had many questions on it yet, though," said Jay Levine, who runs Hampton Roads Bon Secours Atrium Pharmacy in Norfolk, Va.

He reported that not a single box had been sold, although the pharmacy had advised some of its customers that the pills had arrived.

Levine attributed the slow sales to the conservative nature of the area surrounding his pharmacy, as well as the ineffectiveness of Alli's prescription predecessor, Xenical.

Heavy Debate

Levine said he has doubts about Alli's effectiveness because of the steps consumers will need to take when they use the drug.

GlaxoSmithKline informs consumers in materials accompanying the drug that they will need to reduce fat and calorie intake to avoid Alli's unpleasant side effects, which include loose stools and an oily discharge.

"When things get over-the-counter, they tend to be taken regardless of changing habits," said Levine. "And it definitely won't work that way."

Just under 100 miles away from Levine, in Richmond, Leonard Edloe sees the drug differently.

"If you're healthy and overweight, it's ideal," he said. "Most people need a little encouragement in order to lose weight."

Edloe emphasized that patients hoping to benefit from Alli need to be healthy, talk about the drug with their physician, and strictly follow the manufacturer's recommendations.

He commended GlaxoSmithKline for materials sent out with the drug, which he said gives pharmacists good guidelines for explaining necessary lifestyle changes that accompany Alli to patients.

"It's just not a magic pill," Edloe said.

For people willing to take those steps, Edloe said Alli provides the extra edge they may need to shed pounds.

"We have a tendency in our country to look at drugs as an answer to everything," he said.

Because of that mind-set, Edloe sees Alli as giving a dieters more incentive.

"[Some dieters] need [Alli] for a psychological lift. It will give a boost to somebody who was actually looking to use all the tricks of the trade being offered with this product," he said.

Some Pharmacists Just Say No

Other pharmacists see little good coming out of Alli.

"I'm not a big fan of the product," said Ed Snell of Ed Snell Pharmacy Shop in Pocatello, Idaho.

Snell said he has had a few inquiries but does not expect the product to sell well in his pharmacy because "if somebody asks me about it … I'll probably talk them out of it."

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