Books: Bitter Pills, Bad Medicine

An absorbing look at how the fen/phen diet craze destroyed lives and our illusions about drug safety

With the euphoniously named diet-drug combo fen/phen all the rage in the mid-1990s, victory finally seemed near in the war on fat. Selling by the millions, the little pills appeared to melt away pounds without maddening diets, demanding exercise or nasty side effects. But as investigative reporter Alicia Mundy reminds us in her absorbing postmortem, Dispensing with the Truth (St. Martin's Press; 402 pages; $24.95), what began as a panacea for intractable obesity--and a bonanza for the pillmakers--quickly turned into a public health disaster.

By 1996, thousands of fen/ phen users started showing up in doctor's offices and hospitals with catastrophic...

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