As the popularity of weight-loss drugs like Ozempic and Wegovy continues to surge, there are new concerns about counterfeit versions of the drugs hitting the market, prompting some health officials to warn consumers about being extra vigilant when filling their prescriptions.
Ozempic and its counterpart Wegovy were first prescribed for type 2 diabetes but have surged in popularity as a weight loss drug. Semaglutide, the drug's main ingredient, helps suppress users' appetites and feelings of hunger.
Nicole Morse, a 35-year-old from Nashville, is not shy about her weight loss journey. She has tried for years to lose weight but never found success, she says, until her doctor recently prescribed her the drug Wegovy. Since starting the drug in July, she's lost 18 pounds.
"I tried as I got older to diet and exercise as much as I could but it never really seemed to be the same," Morse said. "But this has been different. The biggest thing is that you don't want to eat. You're not hungry."
By some projections, over the next 10 years 7% of the U.S. population — or 24 million people — could be taking these drugs. But now there are concerns counterfeit versions of the drug have started making their way into the United States.
"I think anytime there is a medication that can help with weight loss and diabetes, there's going to be intense interest," said Al Carter, executive director for the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy.
Part of the problem is the drug's popularity. Ozempic and other similar drugs are currently listed on the FDA's drug shortage list.
High demand and low supply create an opportunity for fake drugs to flood the market.
“When the drug is in short supply, people are going to see an opportunity and work the system,” said Dr. Susan Spratt, an endocrinologist at Duke University.
The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy has seen it before with drugs like Viagra and ADHD medications.
"You don't know what you're getting. You don't know if it has drugs in it. You don't know what it has in it," Carter said. "You don't know if it's laced with fentanyl that could kill you. You don't know what you're getting, and it's not being tested," Carter continued. "We've seen products that have drywall, antifreeze, all these poisons that could kill you or harm you and are being put in these medications."
Carter said the best way for consumers to stay safe is to avoid purchasing Ozempic online. If you do order the drug over the internet, he says sites like safe.pharmacy.com are a good place to start. Safe Pharmacy will tell you whether a given website is legitimate.
"Once there is national exposure on a specific drug there will be those trying to make money with counterfeits," Carter added.
Doctors also recommend seeing your provider and getting a proper prescription, and using a reputable pharmacy when it comes to getting Ozempic or similar drugs.
“In the U.S., those only come as pens. So if someones selling this as a vial or another dosage form, that's not a correct formulation,” said Diana Isaacs, an endocrine clinical pharmacist with Cleveland Clinic.
Doctors say look for red flags like foreign writing, or a different color or shape.
“You can always go to the manufacture website, they’ll have images of what it should look like,” Isaacs said.
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