Everyone wants to be beautiful. Societal ideas about beauty in the West have long revolved around looking thin and have linked thinness with elegance, health and happiness. If you think these connections are strong in 2019, then the 1990’s would have blown your mind with the amount of fatphobia and the emphasis on dieting and being thin.
Nowhere is this put in more stark relief than the horrifying Fen-Phen controversy and the class action suit that followed. Fen-Phen, a type of weight loss pill that was popular throughout the 90’s, proved to be deadly when a 30-year-old woman developed heart disease after a month of using the pill in 1996. She died in February 1997 due to the heart disease, and this started a chain of events that would lead to a gigantic class action lawsuit.
Don’t let the cute name fool you: Fen-Phen is the combination of active ingredients fenfluramine and phentermine, which work together to do some pretty gnarly things to your body. Fenfluramine and phentermine are both anorectics, which means they work to make your appetite smaller and reduce your food intake.
Despite being marketed in the 1970’s as a weight loss solution, fenfluramine never really took off, as the weight loss under it didn’t really stick. When paired with phentermine, however, the pair of chemicals would bring substantial weight loss to those who used it. There was only one problem.
Fenfluramine has a number of negative health impacts that American Home Products, the manufacturers of Fen-Phen overlooked. In fact, the company purposefully misled customers and requested the FDA submit the diet pill without the black-box warning that it should have run with. This is because fenfluramine can cause pulmonary hypertension and life-threatening heart valve problems.
In 2000, a federal judge signed off on a $3.75 billion settlement from American Home Products for the plaintiffs in the class action over Fen-Phen. The payouts to individual plaintiffs were based on how much each claimant had used the pill and what their injuries from using it were.
As a result of the lawsuit, sales of diet pills in the US plummeted as the public associated the pills with heart disease and other dangerous side effects. Fen-Phen was pulled from stores in 1997.