The Skinny on Weight Loss Drugs: Can Prescriptions Actually Work?

Dr. Sharon Orrange
Dr. Orrange is an Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine in the Division of Geriatric, Hospitalist and General Internal Medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.
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Many Americans struggle with their weight. More than two-thirds of American adults are considered overweight, and one-third are obese. Obesity-related illness is estimated to cost the American economy almost $200 billion a year.

Sadly, there isn’t yet a perfect pill to end obesity. However, there are a variety of prescription options to help you jump-start your weight loss, with a number of new drugs approved in just the past few years.

These new drugs are welcome additions, not just in the fight against obesity, but in helping diabetics and pre-diabetics where treatment is also focused on weight loss.

Most of the following prescriptions are only for short-term use, but they can help you be successful in losing weight when used along with diet and exercise. What is considered a success? Losing 5 to 10 percent of your baseline weight in 6 months.

With all the medications and injections now available, how can you tell which ones are the real deal? These are five weight loss interventions that really can work.

1.  Phentermine (Adipex-P) is a short-term weight loss medication, used 12 weeks on average. Phentermine is a sympathomimetic, meaning it works like a stimulant to suppress appetite.

2.  Belviq (lorcaserin) is a serotonin receptor agonist approved in 2012.

3. Contrave (naltrexone/bupropion) is a new combination opioid receptor antagonist and catecholamine reuptake inhibitor that was approved in September 2014.

4. Saxenda (liraglutide) is a higher dose of the diabetes medication Victoza. Saxenda was approved in December 2014 as the first GLP-1 analogue for long-term weight management.

5.  Kybella (deoxycholic acid)—you may have read about this new “double-chin injection” recently. This drug is brand new, and could be a game changer. Kybella is a fat-reducing injectable, not a pill. When injected into subcutaneous fat it results in the destruction of fat cells. Kybella has just been approved for contouring the submental area (the area under the chin) by reducing fat in that location.


Two additional prescription options exist, but there are issues. Real issues.

Keep this in mind as well: except for phentermine, all of the drugs above are brand-name prescriptions that are not usually covered by insurance. If you and your doctor find an option that works for you, take advantage of GoodRx and coupons offered by the drug companies for more affordable prices.

Dr O.

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