Orlistat – branded as Alli – weight loss pills are now on sale over the counter in UK pharmacies. Weight loss drugs are frequently abused, and Dr Crippen raises concerns that the pharmacist working in a bricks and mortar shop selling Alli might
not understand the realities of the drug and in any case he (or his masters) will be concentrating on the flashing pound sign
However, we were concerned to see that Lloyds Pharmacy now sells Alli pills online. While pharmacists may struggle with advising patients they meet face-to-face on Alli, selling online raises additional issues.
Would-be purchasers from Lloyds do have to complete an online questionnaire, asking them to give details such as weight and age and confirm statements such as
I am ready to adopt a reduced calorie, lower-fat diet
Unfortunately, although the questionnaires are checked by a pharmacist before the pills are posted out, people sometimes lie on such questionnaires. If someone wants – for example – to use Alli for weight loss despite a low Body Mass Index, they could easily lie about their weight. If a would-be purchaser fails to confirm tick boxes to agree with statements such as that they are willing to follow a lower-fat diet, Lloyds’ website helpfully reminds them that they must check the appropriate box in order to buy the product.
Of course, people can – and do – also mislead people that they meet face-to-face. However, a pharmacist who meets the patient may at least be better-placed to advise them: for example, if someone is visibly extremely thin, a bricks and mortar pharmacy could spot this (and measure directly, using scale etc) whereas a website could not.
Finally, for those of you who are considering taking Alli, a dietitian raises some issues you might want to consider in this comment.
UPDATE: Dr Crippen points out that Boots are also selling Alli online.