Retired physician convicted of selling toxic chemical as weight loss drug

Retired New Jersey physician William Merlino, MD, was convicted of selling the toxic industrial chemical dinitriophenol as a weight loss drug, the Justice Department said Aug. 8.

Dr. Merlino, 85, manufactured the pills at a lab in his home in Mays Landing from at least November 2017 to March 2019, the Justice Department said. He used Twitter to advertise, eBay to sell, and email for communication, earning about $54,000 from sales.

Dinitriophenol is used in herbicides, dyes and wood preservatives, but was used as a weight-loss drug in the 1930's, when drugs were less regulated, the Justice Department said. It was linked to negative side effects including dehydration, cataracts, liver damage and death.

While awaiting trial, Dr. Merlino faked a pancreatic cancer diagnosis in an attempt to avoid trial, the Justice Department said. He is now facing separate obstruction of justice charges.

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