A French pharmaceutical company was found guilty of manslaughter and deception on Monday. The company, Servier Laboratories, was the defendant in a case by 6,500 French citizens who had taken the diabetes medication Mediator as a diet pill.
The company was accused of marketing the diabetes medication as an appetite suppressant and diet pill, and “irresponsibly” prescribed it as such. Mediator is thought to have been linked to as many as 2,000 deaths, according to scholarly studies, as well as problems with patients’ lungs and hearts.
The presiding judge, Sylvie Daunis, stated that Servier “undermined confidence in the health system,” and that “[d]espite the knowledge they had of the risks incurred for many years, […] they never took the necessary measures and thus deceived” patients who were prescribed Mediator as a diet pill.
The company was fined 2.7 million euros, a staggering sum for a case of this magnitude. Moreover, the only living Servier researcher who was involved in marketing Mediator as a diet pill, Dr. Jean-Philippe Seta, will spend four years in prison and will have to pay a fine of over 90,000 euros. Additionally, Seta will be forced to pay millions in damages to the victims and their families.
Since the late 1990s, Servier tried to pass off the diabetes medication as a diet pill and appetite suppressant. Some doctors who had concerns about the mediation’s side effects were allegedly shouted down from making their concerns public. However, scrutiny from all over Europe gradually led to the pill being pulled from the market in countries like Spain, Italy, and Switzerland.
However, it wouldn’t be until 2009 that the company finally stopped selling the pill as a diet medication in France. The only reason that the company pulled the pill was that an independent investigation revealed that it had deadly side effects.
The tragedy of victims falling ill and even dying from side effects of a supposed diet pill is one that has played out in many countries over the years. Unscrupulous companies preying on the insecurities of victims to make a quick buck considered themselves above the law. As Monday’s ruling against Servier has shown, however, they are not above the law: justice might be slow sometimes, but it is inevitable.