Drifting asleep in the front seat of her car, influencer Asha Grand had already blacked out by the time she slammed full-speed into a vehicle parked on the side of the road.
The shocking near-death experience, captured on CCTV, came after the American YouTuber had taken Apetemin, an unlicensed medicine used by thousands of young girls desperate to get Kim Kardashian-style curves.
Dangerously promoted as a means to gain weight rapidly, the product – which is illegal to sell in the UK – has seen users report terrifying side effects, ranging from severe fatigue to jaundice and even liver failure.
Now, NHS leaders have urged Instagram to clamp down on accounts advertising Apetemin following a BBC documentary that revealed it is being widely flogged on social media and in shops.
One woman tells the show she has been hospitalised twice after using it, before admitting: “I took it again and I collapsed down the stairs at home. Apetamin is the devil.”
With girls as young as 12 reportedly taking the stimulant, here is how it has quietly infiltrated homes across Britain.
‘My mum thought I was pregnant’
Model Altou Mvuama, 19, first tried Apetemin after becoming desperate to emulate the hourglass ‘slim thick’ figure of celebrity heroes like Kylie Jenner .
Investigating for the BBC Three show Dangerous Curves, she says it made her constantly drowsy, with her mum – who took it herself – even fearing she was pregnant.
“You definitely get really sleepy and tired and miserable, my mum thought I was pregnant at one point because the amount of times I was sleeping,” she says.
“I was falling asleep at school and my mood swings were crazy.
Apetemin is manufactured and sold by the Indian pharmaceutical company TIL Healthcare and contains an ingredient called cyproheptadine to stimulate appetite.
While widely produced across counties in Asia and Africa, it is not approved by the MHRA, the UK’s medicine regulator.
However, Altou speaks to three women who were easily able to buy the product in England.
One woman she meets, who gained two stone in a month and a half, says: “I kept falling over and tripping up. I was sleeping all the time.
“I couldn’t even write my name on a piece of paper, my hands were shaking that much.”
Another says “It even hurt my eyes to be awake. My feet started to swell, I had to change into my slippers on a night out.”
Lifestyle drugs a ‘grey area’ for cops
Going undercover, Altou visits a market in London, where Apetemin is glaringly advertised on counter tops – with shop owners insisting it will help her gain weight.
She also finds it promoted on websites including Amazon, Instagram and Depop.
Alex Hall, a criminologist at Northumbria University, suggests that despite being illegal to sell, lifestyle drugs such as Apetemin are easy to smuggle into the UK as it is a “grey area” for law enforcement.
“Some people who’ve been involved in cocaine trafficking have actually moved into the fake medicine trade,” she tells the show.
“If you’re caught with a certain amount of cocaine in the UK, you can end up in prison for a very long time. But if you’re caught with something like a lifestyle drug, you’re probably going to get a slap on the wrist.”
Most concerning for doctors, however, is the fact that few studies have investigated its plethora of potential side effects.
Altou speaks to Dr Victoria Garland, a resident physician at the George Washington University in Washington DC, who says one patient was so sick from Apetemin she risked liver failure.
“She was jaundiced, her own body was fighting her liver,” she says. “It’s hard to know what could have happened, she could have full liver failure had she continued it.
“What particularly worries me about Apetamin is the way that it’s marketed as a vitamin supplement, which implies that it’s safe, it’s natural.
“There are no actual studies, we don’t know how Apetamin will impact a person.”
Social media ‘must clamp down on dangerous content’
In the wake of the documentary, Instagram said it had taken down accounts that advertise and sell Apetamin, but this week NHS England revealed it has since found “dozens of profiles”.
In a joint letter to the social media giant, NHS leaders wrote: “We are concerned about both the physical and mental health impacts of the promotion of this drug and strongly urge you to demonstrate duty of care to your customers and clamp down now on this dangerous content.”
The BBC added that it has continued to identify websites and shops selling Apetemin since the documentary was aired.
A representative for Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency told the show: “Apetamin is an unauthorised medicine which should not be sold, supplied or advertised without a license. Taking unauthorised medicines can have serious health consequences. The sale of this product is now under investigation.”
A YouTube spokesman said: “YouTube’s community guidelines prohibit any content encouraging dangerous or illegal activity. We routinely remove content flagged by our community that violates these policies.”
An Instagram spokesman said: “Buying and selling non-medical or prescription drugs is strictly against our policies an we have removed the accounts brought to our attention.”
An Amazon spokesman said: “This product has been removed and we’ve taken action against the sellers in question. Buying and selling non-medical or prescription drugs is strictly against our policies.”
While a spokesperson for Depop added: “Medical products, including unlicensed products such as Apetamin, are not permitted on Depop and will be removed.”
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