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July 15, 2008

A Sad Day: Olympians Tout Botox

Statement of Sidney Wolfe, M.D., Director of the Health Research Group at Public Citizen

It is a sad day when two superb Olympic athletes - whose performances earned a total of 14 gold medals combined - prostitute themselves for undisclosed amounts of money to help Allergan sell Botox. Instead of tens of millions of people watching the athletes’ performances in the past as they strived for their personal best, people will now be able to watch videos of doctors’ performances as they inject former swimmer Mark Spitz and former gymnast Nadia Comaneci with Botox.

This sends a terrible message to athletes, young or old, and to others that they should not accept the way they look as they age but, rather, should try to look their "personal best" by the Botox-enhanced pretense that they are younger than they really are.

Another trouble with this slick marketing campaign is that botulinum toxin (available as Botox and Myobloc) can cause life-threatening adverse reactions. In January, Public Citizen petitioned the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to immediately increase its warnings about Botox and Myobloc; adverse reactions can include paralysis of the respiratory muscles and difficulty swallowing (dysphagia), a condition that can allow food or liquid to enter the respiratory tract and lungs, causing aspiration pneumonia. While the data in our petition mainly related to problems associated with the medical use of Botox, adverse reactions can occur with cosmetic use as well. Since when did "personal best" involve subjecting oneself to a risky procedure?

Two weeks after we filed our petition, the FDA issued a press release warning of the dangers of injecting botulinum toxin but stopped short of forcing drug makers to send out warning letters to doctors or putting a black box warning on the drug as we had requested.

By peddling a product that can seriously injure people, these athletes are tarnishing their past athletic achievements. Botox is nothing to play around with. The public should not be lulled into a false sense of security by Allergan’s outrageous caper.

To read Public Citizen’s petition to the FDA, go to: http://www.citizen.org/publications/release.cfm?ID=7559.

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