Press "Enter" to skip to content

Doctor Sold Toxic Chemical as Weight-Loss Drug

A retired New Jersey doctor was convicted by a federal jury for selling a toxic industrial chemical as a weight-loss drug to customers online, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced.

William Merlino, MD, 85, of Mays Landing, was charged in December 2019 for packaging and selling dinitrophenol (DNP) for human consumption from at least November 2017 until March 2019, according to the DOJ.

Philadelphia radio station KYW reported that it took only 45 minutes for the Philadelphia-based jury to return the verdict against Merlino.

Merlino made the substance — which is used in herbicides, dyes, and wood preservatives — in a lab in his home, prosecutors said. A witness from the shipping service Merlino used said they referred to the doctor as “the yellow man” since he always had bright yellow dust from the chemical on his fingers and clothes when he brought in a new package.

“The defendant knowingly skirted our country’s regulations by marketing an unsafe chemical to people hoping for a quick and easy solution,” Jacqueline Romero, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, said in a statement. “This scheme put many people’s health and safety at risk.”

DNP was used as a weight-loss drug in the 1930s, before the law required that drugs were proven safe and effective before they were brought to market. The chemical has never been approved for human consumption by the FDA, and can cause side effects including dehydration, cataracts, liver damage, and death.

Merlino used Twitter to advertise his products, and eBay to sell them, according to DOJ. He also used email to communicate with his clients.

Ultimately, he made about $54,000 from clients in the U.S., Canada, and Great Britain by selling his home-brewed compound, DOJ stated.

After a year-long investigation by the FDA, a search of his home turned up DNP, packaging and encapsulating materials, and a pill press, according to the DOJ release.

The agency added that Merlino, after being charged in the case, then “faked a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer in order to attempt to avoid trial.” He altered a doctor’s letter and his medical records, DOJ alleged, and is now facing separate obstruction-of-justice charges related to these submissions.

Merlino’s medical license in New Jersey is still active, with an expiration date of June 30, 2023, and there’s no board discipline on his record.

In the DOJ statement, Damon Wood, inspector in charge at the U.S. Postal Inspection Service’s Philadelphia division, said his organization’s job is to “rid the mail of illegal and dangerous substances that at best fleece our fellow citizens, and at worst, cause serious harm. William Merlino is no different than the snake oil salesmen from a century ago.”

  • Kristina Fiore leads MedPage’s enterprise & investigative reporting team. She’s been a medical journalist for more than a decade and her work has been recognized by Barlett & Steele, AHCJ, SABEW, and others. Send story tips to [email protected] Follow

Please enable JavaScript to view the comments powered by Disqus.

Source: MedicalNewsToday.com