The hype around the ‘miracle’ semaglutide injection for obesity has reached fever pitch. Not only does it cause patients taking it to lose up to a fifth of their weight without actually dieting or doing any extra exercise, but it was announced last week that it also reduces the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
It would be great news, if someone could get hold of the stuff.
You see, ever since rumors that reality star Kim Kardashian had used it to slim down and fit into a red carpet gown, demand has skyrocketed, vastly outpacing supply. Countless articles hailed it as “Hollywood’s worst-kept weight-loss secret,” and everyone from Elon Musk to Boris Johnson admitted to trying it.
The result: a global shortage. Semaglutide is made in a single factory in Denmark, and manufacturer Novo Nordisk says stock issues will last well into 2024.
The biggest problem is that, in addition to the magical weight loss effects, type 2 diabetics also need semaglutide to keep their blood sugar from rising into the danger zone.
In a bid to conserve what little is there for these patients, UK health chiefs at the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) have asked doctors to stop offering it for weight loss. .
DANGEROUS: Ozempic’s fake jabs have caused hospitalizations
Fake semaglutide is being sold, sometimes for more than £150 a dose, even in the UK, writes Vivienne Parry.
A cynic might look at all this and say, well, it’s all the kind of advertising money can’t buy. But my biggest concern is that, in the midst of all this hysteria, something inevitable has happened. Fake semaglutide is being sold, sometimes for over £150 a dose, even in the UK.
The Mail on Sunday found that the MHRA recorded the first seizure of counterfeit semaglutide, branded Ozempic, in May. And I worry that this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Since then, regulators have uncovered counterfeits in dozens of countries, including Australia, Ireland, Nigeria and Turkey.
Last month, Switzerland’s drug regulator warned against buying drugs from unreliable sources after several people had to be admitted to hospital after using fake semaglutide.
In one case, the injection pen contained insulin, packaged as Ozempic. If you inject too much insulin, your blood sugar can drop to fatally low levels in seconds.
And as quickly as regulators around the world shut down websites selling the drug, more are springing up. Just a few weeks ago, the MoS uncovered a number of websites promoting Ozempic as a weight loss aid, ignoring MHRA guidance.
How do these online pharmacies keep stock when none on the High Street do?
The World Health Organization has now alerted countries to the potential fake Ozempic problem and is collecting information to try to quantify the extent of the problem. Counterfeits may be contaminated with other drugs, contain higher or lower doses than what is written on the package, or simply not contain any active ingredients.
Another great advantage for criminals is that patients who hope to get it to combat obesity prefer the anonymity of online pharmacies, because weight is highly stigmatized.
And selling online means that people of normal weight, who would be denied a prescription in person, can lie with impunity to get it. It is likely that none of the above groups will report the fact that they have been misled to the authorities.
Also, because Ozempic doesn’t work for everyone, people, including doctors, have a low index of suspicion if the results are poor.
This is why it is so difficult for regulators to detect fakes, despite having confidence in the many that must be in circulation.
As Oksana Pyzik, a pharmacist at University College London and founder of Fight the Fakes, an organization dedicated to reducing global drug fraud, puts it: “Organized criminals make more money from[counterfeit drugs]than they do from selling heroin, and spend less time doing it. “. if you get caught
She is not surprised by this latest twist in the semaglutide story: “Criminals always turn to the next big problem. During Covid it was fake antivirals and dodgy PPE, now it’s Ozempic.
Could the fakes also make their way to High Street pharmacies?
It can happen and it does happen. At some point in the supply chain, criminals remove genuine drugs from their shipping boxes and swap them with counterfeits.
Since rumors that reality star Kim Kardashian (pictured) had used Ozempic to lose weight, demand has skyrocketed, far outstripping supply.
Genuine drugs are sold while the chemist gets the rags. Gangs choose drugs carefully; For example, a few years ago, a fake Lipitor (a cholesterol-lowering statin) entered the retail supply chain in the UK.
The scam was uncovered after a police raid found batches of counterfeit drugs, but not before thousands of packs were sold to pharmacists. Some, possibly hundreds, of these packages were delivered to patients.
When people think of fake medicines, they usually think of the scandals in China, where 13,000 children needed hospital treatment in 2008 after receiving counterfeit infant formula cut with melamine, a type of plastic.
Or cough syrup mixed with antifreeze that has been implicated in mass poisonings and deaths in Panama, Bangladesh, Argentina, Nigeria, India (twice), Indonesia, Uzbekistan, and The Gambia between 1992 and 2022.
But the MHRA identified more than 15,000 counterfeit medicine packs in circulation in the UK between 2020 and 2022, most of which were sold online. It is believed that one in ten people in the UK have bought fake medicines or medical products on the internet, with weight loss and diet medicines being a major target for criminals.
Laura Wilson, Scottish director of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, gave some advice: ‘If you get medicines online, it should only be from a UK registered pharmacy website, regulated by the General Pharmaceutical Council.
‘If you scroll to the bottom of a site’s home page, your registration number should be clearly displayed next to a green cross, under the ‘Registered Pharmacy’ heading.
“You can check this on the website of the General Pharmaceutical Council, at farmacarmegulación.org, which has a search log.”
It sounds long, but it’s worth it. And regardless of whether a site is registered, I would avoid anyone who is willing at this time to provide semaglutide for weight loss, which is currently prohibited.
- If you think you have a fake medicine, please report it to the MHRA through your Yellow Card scheme, at yellowcard.mhra.gov.uk. For more information on how to stay safe, visit fakemeds.campaign.gov.uk.