Person using a laptop.Share on Pinterest
Hundreds of fake online retailers are selling counterfeit weight loss drugs like Wegovy and Ozempic. d3sign/Getty Images
  • A firm has announced the takedown of over 250 websites selling fake GLP-1 drugs like Ozempic.
  • High prices and shortages make sites like these appealing to consumers.
  • Experts say counterfeit drugs can pose health risks since it’s impossible to know what’s in them.
  • It is important to verify the legitimacy of any online pharmacy that you use.

According to reporting by Reuters, the CEO of cybersecurity firm BrandShield, Yoav Keren, told the news outlet that they have removed over 250 websites selling fakes of popular GLP-1 receptor agonist medications like Ozempic and Wegovy.

GLP-1 drugs are used to increase insulin sensitivity and stimulate insulin secretion, as well as reduce blood sugar in patients with type 2 diabetes.

They are also capable of inducing weight loss in those with obesity.

However, they can be expensive without insurance. For example, a carton of Ozempic can cost around $1,000 at most U.S. pharmacies.

Additionally, some products, like Wegovy, which is specifically approved for obesity treatment, are still experiencing shortages due to high demand.

Unfortunately, these factors create an opportunity for purveyors of fake prescription drugs to come in and take advantage of consumers.

Keren told Reuters that his organization works on behalf of drug makers like Lilly and Novo to ferret out these sellers.

Once BrandShield has collected evidence that the websites are selling counterfeit drugs, they contact the companies hosting these sites to get them taken down.

When it can, it also turns over the information to law enforcement agencies.

Keren also noted that social media sites were popular venues for promoting fake drugs. In fact, out of 3,968 listings removed in 2023, nearly 60% were found on Facebook.

Catherine Rall, a Registered Dietitian with Happy V, said the biggest danger with buying from fake drug websites is you simply don’t know for sure what you are getting.

“Any time you’re taking an unregulated drug, you’re taking a huge risk since it could literally contain anything,” she said.

“The best case scenario, outside of the unlikely idea that someone is selling Ozempic at below-market prices, is that you get an inert placebo,” said Rall. “There’s also a huge risk that you’re putting something dangerous into your body.”

According to Nancy Mitchell, a registered nurse and a contributing writer at Assisted Living Center, one risk is that you’ll receive products laced with heavy metals and harmful toxins.

“Every year, hundreds of people show up in the ER with severe allergic reactions or lead poisoning that they acquired from some unknown generic source,” she said.

The Food and Drug Administration further points out that since most GLP-1 drugs are injected, there is a risk of infection since the sterility of the needles can’t be confirmed.

Novo Nordisk, the maker of Ozempic, further notes that there is no way to confirm the efficacy of fake diabetes medications. This could be dangerous for people who need them to control their blood sugar.

Dr. Eldad Einav, an obesity medicine specialist at Drugwatch, said that people often get fooled by fake drug websites because they copy real online pharmacies.

“These fake sites often use deceptive tactics to appear genuine, such as copying branding and logos of reputable pharmaceutical companies,” he said.

Consumers may also be enticed by discount pricing and promises of quick results.

In order to determine whether an online pharmacy is legitimate, Einav suggests the following:

  • Use reputable online pharmacies. “Look for verified contact information, secure payment methods, and accreditation from regulatory authorities,” he advised.
  • Verify the medication’s authenticity. “Research the medication’s appearance, packaging, and manufacturer before purchasing,” Einav said. Compare it with the product that is being offered. Companies like Novo Nordisk may offer photos of real and fake products that you can view for comparison.
  • Beware of suspiciously low prices. Deep discounts may mean that the product is counterfeit or expired, he explained.
  • Consult a healthcare professional. A doctor or pharmacist can help you verify whether a website is real in addition to instructing you on how to use medications safely, said Einav.
  • Look for accreditation. “Look for verified seals or certifications on the website,” he said. The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy provides a database of accredited pharmacies.
  • Ensure prescription requirements. According to Einav, if medications are sent to you directly without the need for a prescription from a licensed physician, this is a tell-tale sign that they aren’t a legal pharmacy.
  • Verify pharmacy credentials. Finally, before you make your purchase, verify that the pharmacy has an active license in the state where it dispenses medications. “If in doubt about a pharmacy’s legitimacy, refrain from using its services,” he concluded.

Working on behalf of drug makers, the cybersecurity firm BrandShield announced that it has orchestrated the shutdown of more than 250 counterfeit websites selling fake GLP-1 drugs like Ozempic.

Fake pharmacies are dangerous to consumers, according to healthcare professionals and government agencies, because it’s not possible to know exactly what is in the products they are selling.

Risks range from the products simply not being effective to them containing life-threatening contaminants.

Experts say it is important to verify the credentials of any online website that you use to purchase your medications. If you are in doubt about its legitimacy, it is best to not use it.