News 8 inquiry opens FDA probe of tainted diet pills



Posted on November 24, 2009 at 11:10 PM

Updated Monday, Nov 30 at 5:15 AM

On the outside, Veronica Ordonez looks great.

She's wearing skinny jeans these days after dropping nine sizes in no time.

"I lost 50 pounds in two months," Ordonez said.

She did it with the help of an orange-and-grey capsule, taken twice daily. It's an herbal appetite control supplement called Meizitang.

"It worked. They didn't give me any type of hunger whatsoever," Ordonez said. "I didn't think there was nothing wrong with them until I started noticing my mood changes."

Those mood changes included depression and suicidal thoughts, restlessness and confusion.

"Mad, scared. Shaky. Sometimes I didn't recognize why I was the way I was," Ordonez recalled. "It was scary. Very scary."

There were no warnings of side-effects on the pills that worked so well. In fact, much of the label is printed in Chinese.

"The labeling sup rises me," said Plano pharmacist Donna Barsky, "because there's absolutely nothing written on this as to what's in it. Nothing... nothing."

Barsky says that although the FDA does not regulate supplements, it does have certain labeling restrictions which this product does not meet.

A close inspection of the odorless powder inside, Barsky says, yields no clue to what the product really is -- or whether it is safe.

"It could be anything," she concluded.

Meizitang pills, in fact, are sold on the Internet and by some vitamin dealers. They claim to be all-natural and plant-based.

Veronica Ordonez got hers from a friend.

News 8 found pills at a Dallas mercado for $40 for a one-month supply.

But, Meizitang is actually on an FDA recall list issued late last year, along with dozens of other "herbal slimming supplements."

An FDA analysis found some of the products are tainted with harmful levels of prescription drugs, including dangerously high doses of the appetite suppressant subutramine, the main ingredient in the prescription weight loss drug Meridia.

The FDA says the drugs they found could cause high blood pressure, seizures, heart attack, stroke, even sudden death.

FDA officials say the warnings went un-noticed by some sellers and by dieters willing to try anything to lose weight.

As a result of News 8 inquiries, the FDA has opened an investigation into what they call an "incomplete recall" of potentially dangerous diet pills.

After quitting the pills, Veronica Ordonez says her side effects and mood changes went away. She now wants to warn other dieters against taking this risk to lose weight.