Several people in Austria were treated in a hospital after using what government officials believe to be counterfeit Ozempic, underscoring worries across parts of Europe that fake versions of the diabetes drug may be circulating.
Ozempic began trending this year as celebrities, TikTok influencers and others described using it to quickly lose weight. It was first approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2017 to treat diabetes. A similar drug called Wegovy, which contains a higher dose of Ozempic’s active ingredient, semaglutide, was approved in 2021.
European officials have recently warned that Ozempic’s rise in popularity has resulted in limited availability for diabetic patients, leading criminal organizations to exploit the shortage by putting fake injection pens on the market.
The patients treated in Austria reported serious side effects like hypoglycemia and seizures, indications that the product most likely contained insulin instead of semaglutide, officials said.
The Austrian Federal Office for Safety in Health Care did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday regarding the status of the patients, but the authorities said the fake pens, which were one milligram in strength, probably came from a source other than a pharmacy.
“Stocks of the affected batch may still be in circulation or may have been obtained by other physicians via this illegal channel,” a statement said. “Patients who have obtained Ozempic pre-filled pens directly from physicians not in charge of in-house pharmacies should contact them immediately.”
In Britain, the regulatory agency that oversees all medicines and medical devices confirmed last week that falsely labeled Ozempic pens had been identified at two unidentified wholesalers.
The pens were brought into Britain from legitimate suppliers in Austria and Germany, officials said, adding that all of the pens were recovered and none were distributed to patients.
The European Medicines Agency issued a similar notice last week, saying it was assisting national authorities in their investigations. Medicine distributors across the European Union have also been alerted.
Despite the popularity of Ozempic, the drug has its limitations: Patients will inevitably reach a plateau when using it to lose weight. Doctors say some people take Ozempic, and others drugs like it, to drop as much weight as possible and are upset when they stop. Others go off the drugs when they reach a plateau, and will tend to regain weight.
While the drug can cause the pounds to melt off, there could be serious side effects: facial aging, intense lack of appetite leading to malnutrition, or a loss of muscle mass.
Older patients on the medications may have additional concerns. The more muscle someone over the age of 65 loses, experts say, the greater their risk of becoming frail or suffering from a fracture or fall. Maintaining muscle mass is crucial for staying mobile and independent.