Physician gets prison for selling herbicide as weight loss drug

A retired New Jersey physician was sentenced to nearly three years in federal prison over his industrial-grade herbicide pill he advertised as a weight loss drug, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported May 31.

William Merlino, 85, sold 2.4 Dinitrophenol, or DNP, over the internet to hundreds of customers seeking a quick way to lose weight. The FDA banned DNP for human consumption in the late 1930s when it was linked to cataracts, liver damage, organ failure and death in patients who took it for weight loss therapy.

In 2019, Dr. Merlino's online business was shut down by federal agents after one of his clients in the United Kingdom overdosed on the drug and died. However, Dr. Merlino stood by DNP for weight loss and suggested he was being prosecuted for "taking money away from large pharmaceutical companies looking to cash in on other weight loss drugs," the report said. He reportedly made more than $54,000 in sales between 2017 and 2019.

Dr. Merlino pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice in January after he forged medical records that said he'd been recently diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in an effort to avoid trial, according to a news release from the Justice Department.

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