Oh-Oh Ozempic: The Issues of Misuse and Counterfeit Drugs and How Countries Are Handling These Trends Internationally

By: Amanda Gomez

The new craze in the United States and recently, internationally, is the use of the weight loss drug Ozempic. Anyone, such as influencers, celebrities, or your neighbor, is likely taking Ozempic or a related drug to quickly drop weight without going the natural route of exercise and a healthy diet. Sounds great right? Not really, and here is why.

Ozempic is a drug that was created for people who have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes that has been insufficiently controlled. Although not approved for weight loss alone by the FDA, the main ingredient, semaglutide, slows digestion and creates more insulin which then lowers blood sugar and suppresses hunger. This can have the effect of weight loss for those who take it. The problem that has ensued internationally is the creation of off-brand and unregulated copies of this drug which have been sold to the masses. These compounded semaglutide drugs have become popular due to its increase in demand as well as the potential lower cost and coverage for the shortage of the approved drug.

People have become desperate for this weight loss drug and have resorted to creating fake prescriptions and buying the medicine online. The issue is, as the World Health Organization warns, that medicine bought online could have up to a fifty percent chance it is counterfeit. The FDA warns about possible harmful side effects that the approved Ozempic can cause and further warns that non-FDA approved semaglutide products that are being advertised as having similar effects to Ozempic can lead to greater unknown issues and strains on the health system. This is a prevailing issue not only with these popular weight loss drugs but also any medication that is in high demand. What is being done about this possible life threating problem internationally?

Canada is taking large measures to create solutions for the over-prescription of these semaglutide weight loss drugs. As of this past summer, the health minister of British Columbia shared that non-Canadians would not be able to receive Ozempic from Canadian pharmacies due to the new restriction by the province. A U.S. physician was filling such a large volume of prescriptions for Ozempic that it would equate to seeing 188 patients per day, and those prescriptions were being shipped from Canadian pharmacies due to its price difference of about $750 between the U.S. and Canada. This example, and many other events like this, are the cause of the high demand as well as a lack of access to Ozempic for those consumers who were actually diagnosed with diabetes – which is why Canada has decided to intervene. This in turn has the positive effect of controlling the prescription of Ozempic to those who do not require it, for its intended purpose of treating diabetes.

Australia is also experiencing a shortage of the Ozempic drug due to skyrocketing demand. The Australian Government’s Therapeutic Goods Administration has stated that since they have the right to regulate the advertisement of therapeutic goods, they have been working on the unlawful advertising of the misuse of Ozempic by taking down media posts and clarifying misinformation of the drug. But the administration’s power does not reach so far as to limit the unnecessary prescriptions of Ozempic to patients because they cannot regulate the decisions of health professionals.

In Europe, the European’s Medicine Agency monitors the safety of medicines in the EU including drugs like Ozempic but they do not control availability of medication, develop laws concerning medicine, or control the advertisement of medicine. The European Commission develops legislation and leaves it up to the individual member states to comply. This creates incongruous regulations which can mislead consumers and pharmaceutical companies. For example, in some member states their customs department has been assigned the responsibility to control the counterfeit drug supply chain, whereas in other member states the medicine regulating agency is responsible. The lack of strict and unified oversight has granted black market players easy access into this high demand space where they are creating unauthorized semaglutide products, advertising it as the desired weight loss drug, and selling it to consumers all over Europe through online sites.

Globally, this demand for Ozempic or one of its “weight loss” equivalents has created chaos for countries to monitor. Some minor actions they have taken has been to publicly share resources for consumers to spot the difference between the actual Ozempic drug or one of its counterfeit copies and to create websites where certain public health risks or pharmaceutical companies can be reported to prevent the public from further harm.

“The World Health Organization estimates more than 1 billion people have obesity.” This is a worrisome observation seeing as how accessible these quick fixes to weight loss are and how inadequate the information is on the possible harmful effects it can have on physical and mental health in the future to those who take Ozempic not for intended purpose or with no proper medical supervision. Although no country’s internal regulatory functions are alike, a closer look at the number of prescriptions for Ozempic being given out daily would be a good start for any county to possibly controlling pharmaceuticals handing it out to consumers who do not medically require it. Another act that all countries can participate in is having the medical regulating agencies do online searches for fraudulent pharmaceutical companies and reporting them for their false advertisement and sale of the compounded drug, which could lead to the site takedown.

This may seem like a high demand trend that is going to fade, but if the media craze continues to grow (as it has) this trend will not be going away anytime soon. It is up to regulating agencies to help protect the public from the harms of the misuse of Ozempic or one of its counterfeits.

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