UK issues warning against Ozempic weight-loss pens following hospitalisations

Online counterfeits of the pens, which claim to contain the medications Ozempic (semaglutide) or Saxenda (liraglutide), have surged in recent weeks sparking safety concerns. Credit: AP

The UK's medicine regulator has warned the public against buying fake weight-loss pens after a spate of hospitalisations across Europe.

Online counterfeits of the pens, which were initially introduced to the pharmaceutical market to counter obesity, have surged in recent weeks sparking safety concerns.

They claim to contain the medications Ozempic (semaglutide) or Saxenda (liraglutide), but the sham pens are believed to contain substances.

Days ago several people were hositalised in Austria after using the suspected fakes, causing serious side-effects, including hypoglycaemic shock and coma.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said that the symptoms are indicative that the pens may contain insulin rather than semaglutide.

It has seized 369 potentially fake Ozempic pens since January 2023, and has also received reports of fake Saxenda pens that have been obtained by members of the public in the UK through non-legitimate routes.

"We are advising all members of the public not to use any pre-filled weight-loss pens they may have bought online and instead to report it to us so that we can investigate and take any necessary action," the MHRA said in a statement.

What is Ozempic?

Ozempic is the brand name for semaglutide - an appetite suppressant.

It is a weight-loss injection popular with celebrities – Twitter and Tesla tycoon Elon Musk and former Prime Minster Boris Johnson say they've used it to stay in shape. Reality star Kim Kardashian also reportedly uses it.

Patients inject themselves weekly with the drug, manufactured by Danish firm Novo Nordisk, which mimics the hormone glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) that is released after eating.

This makes people feel full, meaning they eat less and lose weight.

Guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) says the drug will only be offered on the NHS to adults with at least one weight-related condition and a body mass index (BMI) score of at least 35.

When prescribed alongside diet, physical activity and behavioural support, people taking a weight-loss drug can lose up to 15% of their body weight after one year, with results apparent within the first month, official clinical trials show.

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