The introduction and popularity of new, highly-effective weight loss drugs, which has the same active ingredient (semaglutide) as a diabetes medicine, and available by prescription, have created a situation where market demand greatly exceeds product availability. Counterfeiters and other unscrupulous players are exploiting this gap to push falsified and substandard medicines to unsuspecting consumers and patients, through unlicensed online sources, the black market, and unauthorized sales. An ever-growing number of victims have already reported dangerous health consequences from using these fake products. Regulatory agencies across the world have issued warnings about the increasing prevalence of these fake products for the past few months however the situation appears to be spiraling out of control.
UPDATE: Patients reported to have suffered hypoglycaemia and seizures, serious side effects that indicate the product contained insulin instead of Ozempic’s active ingredient semaglutide.
The Fight the Fakes Alliance advises consumers and patients to exercise caution when purchasing and using products that would normally contain semaglutide, commonly sold under brand names like Ozempic, Wegovy, and Rybelsus. It should only be obtained with a prescription from licensed pharmacies or hospitals.
Similar situations have occurred during the pandemic as people scrambled for COVID-19 vaccines and therapies and in other instances when life-saving products, ranging from antimalarials and bed nets to blood thinners to antibiotics, were not easily accessible. Thanks to several INTERPOL operations, we can now grasp the scale of the problem, although it’s likely that what we’ve uncovered so far is just the tip of the iceberg.
The modern-day drug counterfeiter no longer operates out of a garage, targeting only local or underdeveloped markets. Instead, they have evolved into sophisticated “global businesses” that exploit market weaknesses and patient needs. They have quality packaging and printing operations, they effectively leverage social media and the Internet, and have a deep understanding of how authentic products travel through the global supply chains. All of this is done to circumvent existing security measures and pass themselves off as genuine. Unfortunately, even when these criminals are caught, local laws often impose only fines or minor penalties as the trade of unlicensed medicines is often not differentiated from selling fake electronics or fashion items. In fact, in recent years it is believed that drug rings and crime syndicates formerly involved in the trade of illicit drugs have moved into handling substandard and falsified medicines instead due to their high-profit potential and comparatively lower-risk environments.
Medicines regulators, customs and law enforcement officials, and other stakeholders do their best to prevent infiltrations but they themselves are often under-resourced, which limits their ability to adequately protect the legitimate supply chain. This results in many substandard and falsified medicines flowing in black or gray markets, online, and elsewhere, risking the health of millions.
What can be done?
- Governments should collaborate to ensure that only trustworthy entities receive licenses for manufacturing, distributing, and dispensing medicines.
- The pharmaceutical industry should adhere to and advance global standards for product traceability, anti-tamper, anti-theft solutions, and supply chain security measures.
- Patients should exercise caution about obtaining products from unknown sources, even if they seem credible, and should be made aware of the associated dangers.
- Greater transparency is needed regarding the current and potential presence of substandard and falsified medicines in the market.
- All stakeholders from across the supply chain should collaborate to increase patient safety and maintaining confidence in healthcare systems.
- Report any known or potential exposures to substandard and falsified medicines to the proper authorities in your country.
Finally, as counterfeiters are winning ground on social media and the web, let’s fight back by spreading more awareness on the same platforms, by sharing information about substandard and falsified medicines, and by reporting any suspicious cases.
Use the following captions in your message and join the counterfight:
⚠️ Caution: Fake Weight Loss Meds Sold Online ⚠️ Don’t be fooled! With the high demand for weight loss drugs, counterfeiters are selling #fakemeds, posing as the real deal. Your health may be at risk if you take them. #FightFakeMeds
Below you can find a compilation of reports on this matter:
The Partnership for Safe Medicines: Counterfeit Ozempic Found In The U.S.:
Novo Nordisk Company Statement: Novo Nordisk warns of counterfeit Ozempic® (semaglutide injection) pen found in US:
Forbes: Counterfeit Ozempic Crackdown: Drugmakers Threaten Clinics For Compounding Drugs During Shortages:
POLITICO: Weight loss drugs: Fake Ozempic and Wegovy surge in Europe:
DailyMail: Buy ‘miracle’ weight-loss jab Ozempic online, and you could end up with a fake that puts your life at risk… writes scientist and broadcaster VIVIENNE PARRY:
The Sun: ‘I THOUGHT I WAS DYING’ Warning as fake weight loss drugs sold on social media leave users with extreme side effects:
Mirror: Warning as ‘fake Ozempic’ weight loss jabs are sold online mixed with acid:
SecuringIndustry: Fake Ozempic pen found in US pharmacy:
Therapeutic Goods Administration, Australian Government: Counterfeit semaglutide vials:
Updated on 25 October 2023.