- The maker of Ozempic warns that fake GLP-1 pens have been spotted in markets around the world as demand for GLP-1 drugs continues to surge.
- At least three Americans are also reported to have been hospitalized after using suspected fake GLP-1 drugs, including Ozempic.
- Doctors say counterfeit GLP-1 drugs pose serious health risks because you don’t know what you are getting.
- Obtaining a prescription from a licensed provider is the safest way to buy GLP-1 drugs like Ozempic.
On November 7, CBS News reported that at least three Americans had been hospitalized following the use of counterfeit GLP-1 drugs, which includes Ozempic.
These new reports follow an earlier warning issued by Novo Nordisk (the maker of the popular weight loss and diabetes medications Wegovy and Ozempic) about the growing number of online sites offering counterfeit versions of these medications.
Their warning came in response to an earlier message from the European Medicines Agency detailing the existence of fake Ozempic pens in both the United Kingdom and the European Union.
Novo Nordisk’s warning was followed soon after on October 24 with a report that several people had been hospitalized in Austria after using what was suspected to be fake Ozempic.
The patients were said to have experienced hypoglycemia (abnormally low blood sugar) and seizures.
According to BASG, the Austrian agency in charge of safety in healthcare, these symptoms indicate that they probably received the diabetes drug insulin rather than semaglutide, the active ingredient in both Wegovy and Ozempic.
When a person takes too much insulin — either because it’s the incorrect dose or because they do not need it — they can experience insulin overdose.
More severe symptoms of insulin overdose can include unconsciousness or even death.
Milder symptoms can include:
“We will always put patient safety first and are committed to continue to actively fight against counterfeit products,” a representative from Novo Nordisk told Healthline.
As reports of fake Ozempic have been increasing, Novo Nordisk states that they are working in close collaboration with the Food and Drug Administration to create awareness of the problem. They are urging consumers to visit their corporate website to view a guide for identifying counterfeits.
They are also engaging in efforts to educate wholesalers and pharmacists about how to recognize fake Ozempic.
Dr. Jonathan Kaplan, a board certified plastic surgeon and Pacific Heights Plastic Surgery owner, described the prospect of obtaining fake Ozempic as “very scary.”
“Sure it’s convenient to order online without a prescription,” he said, “but you truly don’t know what’s in it.”
Kaplan noted that if you are able to get a medication without a prescription it either means it’s not the real medication — as it appears was the case in Austria — or it’s a research version of it with unproven efficacy.
It’s also possible that it contains contaminants. You could be running the risk of infection, or, at best, it simply won’t work, he explained.
When it comes to drugs that are currently undergoing research, Kaplan pointed to the drug retatrutide, which is currently in phase 3 trials.
“Looks like a very promising drug and it is possible to determine the formula for it since there’s a patent for the medication,” he said. “So it is possible for someone to make a duplicate but again, you don’t know the quality measures that were in place when making it.”
Dr. Florencia Halperin, an expert in GLP-1s and obesity medicine and the chief medical officer at Form Health, advised that the safest way to obtain Ozempic is with a prescription through a trusted source.
“Because the drugs in question are prescription medications that are regulated by the FDA,” said Halperin, “people should only receive them under the care of healthcare professionals who are licensed in their state to treat and prescribe, and it is important to look this up if anyone has any doubts.”
Another way to verify your provider’s credentials is to check if they have board certification, she added.
“And the care that people receive should feel like standard medical care,” she continued. “[D]id the prescriber ask about drug allergies, other medications, or medical history? Did they verify height and weight?”
Halperin went on to explain that questions like these are how a provider determines if a given medication is right for your case. “[I]f none of this information is collected, this should raise a red flag,” she said.
She additionally advised that anyone prescribing medication should provide you with information about how to take it, what side effects you might experience, and what to do if you do have any problems. This includes knowing how to get in touch with the prescriber if need be, according to Halperin.
Finally, Halperin said it’s important to know that obesity drugs like Ozempic work best when you combine good nutrition, exercise, and behavioral change.
“People interested in using medication(s) for weight loss are more likely to succeed at weight loss for the long term if they receive care that includes not just a medication prescription, but a more comprehensive approach led by professionals that also incorporates these other treatment tools,” she concluded.
There have been reports of fake Ozempic in the US, UK, and the European Union.
In some cases, people were hospitalized due to receiving what was probably insulin rather than semaglutide, the active ingredient in Ozempic.
Novo Nordisk, the maker of Ozempic, states that they are working with the FDA to prevent the distribution of counterfeit GLP-1 drugs.
In the meantime, they have provided information for identifying fake Ozempic on their website.
Experts say the safest way to buy Ozempic is to obtain a prescription from a licensed healthcare provider.