Large increase in number of fake weight-loss drugs seized by watchdog in 2024

Officials warned consumers of risks from falsified versions of Ozempic and Wegovy

An authentic Ozempic needle, left, and a counterfeit needle, right. Photograph: FDA via AP

The number of falsified weight-loss drugs seized by the medicines watchdog in the first five months of the year is 150 per cent higher than the total number in all of 2023, new figures show.

On Friday, the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) issued a statement warning consumers of the risks of falsified versions of semaglutide products such as Ozempic and Wegovy.

These products are typically used to treat diabetes and obesity, but have been growing in popularity due to online personalities and celebrities showing the drugs’ effect on weight loss.

Falsified medicines are fake medicines that are designed to mimic their real counterparts. The HPRA has warned the public that they can contain harmful substances or incorrect dosages, “thereby threatening the health and the effectiveness of any essential treatment a patient may require”.

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In 2024, as of the end of May, the HPRA has detained 656 units of falsified semaglutide. Products detained include tablets, vials of white powder or clear liquid labelled as containing semaglutide and boxed pens being presented as a generic version of the product.

In 2023, 254 units of falsified semaglutide were detained, up from 32 units in 2022.

The HPRA said it has noted the increase in detentions and overall demand for these products; however, “figures are still low when compared with other detentions”. The statement said that nonetheless the HPRA is “monitoring this situation closely”.

Demand for weight loss drug more than 45 times higher than expectedOpens in new window ]

The HPRA statement comes following a warning from the World Health Organisation about the growing incidence of these falsified products being identified in markets across the world.

As part of its regulatory activities, the HPRA routinely monitors and takes action against websites, social media sites and ecommerce listings which are advertising the online sale or supply of prescription medicines into Ireland.

This monitoring includes the products Ozempic, Rybelsus and Wegovy, all of which contain the active ingredient semaglutide, the HPRA said.

In 2023, 169 websites, ecommerce or social media pages advertising or supplying semaglutide were removed or amended by the HPRA. A further 144 pages have been removed in 2024 to date.

The HPRA said it is “always best to seek advice from a healthcare professional about any health concerns people may have rather than consulting online websites”.

It urged consumers to source their prescription medicines through the standard practice of accessing a prescription from your doctor, to be dispensed through your local pharmacy.

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers is Health Correspondent of The Irish Times