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WHO warns against fake Ozempic drugs flooding black market

June 20, 2024

Fake versions of diabetes and weight loss drugs that are in high demand are being sold and advertised online. The WHO has warned people not to use these dangerous alternatives.

An Ozempic package being held by a pharmacist
Fake versions of popular diabetes and weight loss drugs are being sold online as demand outpaces supplyImage: Remko de Waal/ANP/picture alliance

The World Health Organization issued a warning on Thursday concerning falsified versions of popular diabetes and weight loss drugs.

Fake medications that claim to reproduce the effects of so-called semaglutides — such as Ozempic manufactured by the Danish pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk — have been reported in several countries.

US drug giant Eli Lilly also published an open letter saying it was "deeply concerned" about people selling medicines with phony or compounded versions of tirzepatide, the active ingredient behind its own Mounjaro and Zepbound drugs.

WHO calls for awareness of falsified Ozempic

"WHO advises healthcare professionals, regulatory authorities and the public be aware of these falsified batches of medicines," said Yukiko Nakatani, WHO assistant director-general for essential medicines and health products.

"We call on stakeholders to stop any usage of suspicious medicines and report to relevant authorities," she added.

The UN agency said it had seen reports of increasing numbers of fake Novo Nordisk products since 2022 but confirmed the discovery of three batches between October and December 2023 in Brazil, the UK and the US.

Novo Nordisk produces the Ozempic drug for diabetes treatment as well as Wegovy for weight loss, both drugs use semaglutides.

Weight loss injection

Fake drugs can lead to health complications

Originally designed to help people with type 2 diabetes, semaglutides are prescribed to lower blood sugar levels and reduce the risk of heart problems.

But they also lower appetite, leading to them being prescribed against obesity in some places.

But with demand high and quantities of the drugs limited, the medicines have become too costly for many people, meaning that the WHO does not recommend them as a treatment. It also pointed out that other cheaper medical options are available for people with diabetes.

The organization warned that the fake versions may contain undeclared ingredients and can have negative and unpredictable impacts on a person's health.

ab/sms (AP, dpa)