New Weight Loss Drug: Contrave

For the third time in less than three years, the FDA has approved a new weight loss drug. Contrave, which is a combination of antidepressant and alcohol dependence medications, is intended to be used along with a low-calorie diet and exercise regimen. The drug is approved for use in obese adults or overweight adults (BMI of 27 or greater) who also suffer a weight-related problem, such as type 2 diabetes or high blood pressure. Contrave joins two similar drugs from Arena Pharmaceuticals (Belviq) and Vivus Inc. (Qsymia), which the FDA approved in 2012 after a 13 year drought of new prescription weight loss pills.

In terms of its effectiveness, clinical trials found that Contrave is more effective than placebo: in one trial, 42% of patients who received the drug lost at least 5% of their body weight, while 17% of the patients who received a placebo experienced similar results. In a trial in obese adults with diabetes, 36% of patients who took the drug shed 5% of their weight, while 18% of patients who received a placebo lost 5%.

It is important for patients to know that drug-induced weight loss is much smaller than that seen with surgical procedures, such as gastric bypass, sleeve, and band. But even shedding 5% of one’s body weight can have meaningful effects. The drug will work best for patients who use the pill as a tool, in combination with a healthy diet and exercise regimen.

So far, the other weight loss pills have not been big sellers—one reason is that insurers have been slow to cover the treatments, which have been priced at upwards of $200 a month. Additionally, the drugs are not without side effects, and patients who stop taking the medications will likely start to regain weight, making the medication a life-long commitment. At this point, bariatric surgery is the single most effective and long-lasting treatment for obesity and its related health conditions.

Related Reading: History of Obesity Drugs

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