The 26-year-old woman from Florida was impressed.
She had just begun taking the diet pills she’d ordered from a website, and she wanted to thank the seller.
“Appreciated and I’ll be ordering more, lost 3lbs before the first day was over,” she wrote in an email to the man from Monroe, North Carolina who had shipped the pills to her.
Less than two months later, she was dead.
On Feb. 6, the seller, 38-year-old Barry Clint Wright, was sentenced to seven years in federal prison for peddling DNP — an unapproved weight-loss drug that has been linked to the deaths of at least two of his customers.
In 1938, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration declared DNP — short for 2,4-Dinitrophenol — dangerous and unfit for human consumption.
The drug, once used as an explosive and now as a fertilizer, causes rapid weight loss by increasing the rate at which the body burns calories. It’s often marketed to bodybuilders.
But the pounds that are shed too often come with a cost: DNP has been associated with cataracts, heart problems and, in dozens of cases, death.
Desperate to lose weight
Federal authorities first became aware of Wright’s dangerous business in 2016.
A woman from a town just north of Orlando reported to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that her 26-year-old daughter — identified in court documents as C.W. — had died after taking DNP capsules that she had ordered from Wright.
The mother told authorities that her daughter had been desperate to lose weight, and she passed along copies of emails that C.W. had exchanged with Wright.
On March 22, 2016, C.W. sent Wright “before and after” photos to show that she had lost 11 pounds.
“Feel free to post my email so that people can contact me and I can tell them the product is for real,” she wrote.
“These are amazing results,” Wright responded. “I was curious if you were OK with posting your pics on the website.”
C.W. died on May 2, 2016. The official cause of her death was found to be cardiac arrhythmia — an irregular heartbeat. Federal authorities said they could not prove that DNP caused her death, but they noted that the drug can cause cardiac arrhythmia.
Soon after C.W.’s death, federal authorities found that Wright’s website touted DNP as “the most potent fat loss agent available.”
The website, crystaldnp.com, was registered to an address on Plyler Mill Road in Monroe — a home that Wright later admitted he used to encapsulate the DNP pills. In June 2016, following a complaint from the FDA, Google suspended the website.
Subsequently, Wright began selling the drug through other websites, including buycrystaldnp.com, court records show.
Wright then became more careful about discussing weight loss with the customers who bought his DNP, according to court documents. But he continued to sell DNP pills to many of the same customers who had bought the drug previously, authorities said.
In October 2016, undercover officers with the FDA began buying the drug from Wright, using his websites. The packages included Wright’s name and return address, along with capsules that were later found to include DNP, according to court records.
DNP claims another victim
On Dec. 8, 2017, a 21-year-old man from London — identified in court records as V.G. — ordered 50 capsules of DNP from Wright, using his website buycrystaldnp.com.
V.G died three months later, after ingesting 20 capsules of the drug. The coroner’s office found high levels of both DNP and alcohol in V.G.’s body, and concluded that the DNP contributed to his death.
On Jan. 1, 2018, a 46-year-old man from Marietta, Georgia ordered his first batch of DNP capsules from Wright’s website.
Less than four months later, he, too, was dead. A medical examiner found pill fragments in his body and concluded that the cause of his death was DNP toxicity.
Soon afterward, FDA agents interviewed Wright at his apartment in Monroe. Wright admitted that he was still selling DNP online, and that he was making about $2,000 a month from the sales, according to court records.
Wright pleaded guilty on Nov. 1, 2019.
And on Feb. 6, U.S. District Judge Paul Byron, in Florida, sentenced Wright for three federal crimes: introducing an unapproved drug into interstate commerce, introducing a misbranded drug into interstate commerce, and introducing an unapproved drug into interstate commerce with the intent to defraud or mislead.
Byron gave Wright the maximum statutory sentence — seven years in federal prison.