PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — A man who sold an illegal diet drug on eBay to a Rhode Island resident who later died is scheduled to plead guilty on Thursday to a misdemeanor in a federal court in California.
The person died in 2013 after taking the drug known as DNP — or 2,4-Dinitrophenol (DEYE'-neye-troh-FEE'-nahl).
DNP is used as a wood preserver, dye, herbicide and explosives component, but is also sold online as a drug that speeds up the metabolism to quickly burn fat. Some officials have compared it to cooking the body from within.
A number of people have died from taking DNP in recent years in the United Kingdom, and its government has warned against its use. Last year, Interpol, a network of police forces around the world, issued a global alert warning about DNP's role in deaths and hospitalizations and noting it is often manufactured in clandestine laboratories with no hygiene regulations.
Court documents say Alan Alden agreed to plead guilty on Thursday in U.S. District Court in Fresno, California, to introducing an unapproved drug into interstate commerce.
A plea deal Alden signed with federal prosecutors in Rhode Island in December says he was selling the drug under username "skitzopizza" between August 2013 and January 2014.
The unidentified person died in October 2013 as a result of ingesting DNP, according to the agreement. The deal says the customer also bought DNP elsewhere, and it can't be established beyond a reasonable doubt whether it was Alden's DNP that killed the person.
Prosecutors agreed to recommend three years' probation when he is sentenced.
The investigation was conducted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. DNP is not approved by FDA for weight loss or any other use, according to FDA spokeswoman Lyndsay Meyer.
Still, the drug could be found for sale on various sites this week, often marketed to body builders.
DNP was first used as a diet drug in the 1930s, but after a number of people died using it, the FDA determined it was "extremely dangerous and not fit for human consumption," Meyer said.
Meyer said she was not aware of any other criminal prosecutions for DNP sales in the United States. Whether the sale is illegal depends on whether it is marketed as a dietary supplement, Meyer said. Even so, companies do not need approval from the FDA before selling such supplements, making it difficult for the FDA to crack down, she said.
When the FDA sends a letter to a company that is marketing a supplement with DNP, the company could then quickly change the name of the product and start selling it under a different name, Meyer said.
"We're always playing catch-up when it comes to these kinds of products," she said. "That's the way that supplements are regulated."