In general, military regulations prohibit the routine use of prescription medications for weight loss and only approve their short-term use under very specific conditions. However, Service Members often look to medications and dietary supplements to boost their health and fitness. Here, OPSS looks only at prescription medications for weight loss.

What is the military policy on prescriptions for weight loss?

Below we provide links to service-specific and DoD policies on the use of prescription medications for weight loss or weight control. (Please note: These policies and documents are updated at various times, so be sure to check with your MTF provider or local JAG about any recent changes to policy.)

  • Air Force: Air Force Instruction 44-102 (Medical Care Management), dated 29 June 2021, especially Section 3C—Use of Weight Control Drugs and Surgery
  • Army: Army Regulation 40-3 (Medical, Dental, and Veterinary Care), dated 23 April 2013, especially Sections 11-10 and 11-11 and Appendix B, Controlled substances
  • Navy and Marines: NAVMED P-117 (Pharmacy Operation and Drug Control), dated 5 March 2018; and OPNAVINST 5350.4d (Navy Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention and Control), dated 04 June 2009
  • Coast Guard: COMDTINST M6000.1F (Coast Guard Medical Manual), dated June 2018, especially Chapter 10, Section A.3.h, Pharmacy Administration, and Section B.1.c.(3), Controlled Substances
  • DoD: DoDI 1010.01 (Military Personnel Drug Abuse Testing Program), dated 14 February 2018; and DoDI 1010.16 (Technical Procedures for MPDATP), dated 27 February 2017

Can military doctors prescribe phentermine for weight loss?

Phentermine is a prescription drug that decreases your appetite, and it is approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) for weight loss. It acts as a central nervous system stimulant, which can increase your heart rate and blood pressure, and make you feel more alert. Phentermine is a Schedule IV drug on the Drug Enforcement Administration’s list of controlled substances. That means it can be obtained and used legally only by prescription.

In 2018, the Defense Health Agency (DHA) Pharmacy Operations Division added phentermine to their formulary, but the documentation notes that “Active Duty Service Members requiring a weight loss drug should be enrolled in a Service-Specific Health and Wellness Program and must follow individual service policies.” General requirements require prior authorization, 6 months of “lifestyle intervention” before starting drug therapy, as well as involvement in a service-specific program throughout the course of therapy.

Phentermine is similar in nature to an amphetamine. Because of this, it might register on an initial urine screening test for amphetamines. If this happens, then the specimen goes through another analysis for confirmation. Phentermine will not cause a positive result on the confirmation drug test or be reported as positive through the military drug-testing program.

What if my weight-loss prescription is from a civilian provider?

If you go to a civilian healthcare provider who prescribes a weight-loss prescription drug, be sure to take your prescription to a Medical Treatment Facility (MTF) pharmacy. If your MTF pharmacy cannot fill a prescription from a civilian provider, consult with your MTF before having the prescription filled elsewhere.

In addition, Service Members should inform their military healthcare provider about any prescription medications that weren’t received from a MTF, especially those used specifically for weight loss. For example, according to Navy policy OPNAVINST 5350.4d, “Members shall report all prescription medications received from non-military MTFs to their chain of command and ensure they are entered into their military health record.” This is important because some weight-loss drugs, such as phentermine, could cause a reaction on a drug test for amphetamines and because stimulant drugs are closely monitored for potential dependence. It is important to have a record of a prescription in the event of a positive reaction on a urine test.          

Whenever possible, use a provider at your installation’s MTF, because they should be knowledgeable about your service’s policy with regard to medications for weight loss, as well as any local controls that might exist. In the long run, this could help prevent problems with going against policy.

Are medications for weight loss available without a prescription?

Although some weight-loss drugs are available over the counter, Service Members should follow guidelines included in the service-specific policies listed above. In addition, some clever marketing might make it seem it is okay for you to buy, for example, the drug phentermine online, but the product might be a dietary supplement. 

Remember, this article refers to prescription medications for weight loss, which means it applies only to drugs, not dietary supplements. For information about dietary supplements for weight loss, please read the OPSS article on weight-loss supplements.

 

Updated 22 December 2021

References

Defense Health Agency. (2018). MTF Formulary Management for Weight Loss Agents. Retrieved 01 February 2021 from https://health.mil/Reference-Center/Fact-Sheets/2018/02/26/Formulary-Management-for-Weight-Loss-Agents

MedlinePlus. (2017). Phentermine. Retrieved 1 February 2021 from https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a682187.html