Fen-Phen - Pondimin, Redux

Diet-conscious Americans often turned to medication in the 1990s to help them lose weight. Among the most popular was a combination of drugs that went by the nickname of "fen-phen," for fenfluramine (brand names Pondimin, Redux) and phentermine. The fen-phen diet showed good results and soared in popularity; sales of these drugs topped a reported $5.6 billion by 1994.

But then a serious problem arose. In July 1997, researchers at the Mayo Clinic reported that women who had taken fen-phen developed heart valve dysfunction. About 30 percent of fen-phen users tested suffered from the rare ailment. Reports surfaced also linking fen-phen to primary pulmonary hypertension (PPH), a potentially fatal disease.

On Sept. 15, 1997, two months after the Mayo Clinic report, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration removed Pondimin and Redux from the market.

Legal action followed, including cases handled by Kline & Specter, PC, the Philadelphia-based law firm with 50 attorneys, several of whom are also doctors. In 1999, the manufacturer of Pondimin and Redux, American Home Products Corp., agreed to a $3.75 billion settlement to pay patient claims. The funds were targeted for refunds as well as testing and compensation to people who suffered injuries as a result of taking Pondimin and Redux.

As many as six million people were estimated to have used fen-phen. The risk of heart valve damage from using fen-phen was considered greater among those who used it longer, particularly if it was taken for more than three months.

Symptoms of PPH, caused by a narrowing of the blood vessel that supplies blood to the lungs, included shortness of breath, chest pain, weakness, fatigue and fainting.