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TGA warns of ‘several scams’ over type 2 diabetes drug used for weight loss




Ozempic, a drug internationally prescribed for type 2 diabetes, went viral when its dramatic weight loss effects became known - now scammers are taking advantage of the craze.

The Therapeutic Good Administration (TGA) warned consumers on Wednesday of the “several scams targeting consumers seeking semaglutide (the active ingredient in Ozempic)”.

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The once-a-week injectable drug controls insulin secretion from the pancreas, improves blood-sugar levels and manages the risk of heart attacks and stroke - and it suppresses appetite.

This sparked an international weight loss craze and the drug was touted on TikTok as a miracle weight-loss solution, triggering international shortages for more than a year.

Several scams are now capitalising on that, the TGA reports.

“The TGA is investigating a number of websites claiming to be selling products containing semaglutide, (trade name Ozempic), for the treatment of type 2 diabetes and off-label for weight loss,” the TGA said.

“In some cases consumers who pay for products online fail to receive any product, while in other cases the product received is not semaglutide.

“Even for those individuals who receive semaglutide, it may not be medically suitable for them.”

Serious shortages of the drug have been reported since early last year, but the TGA announced last month more stock would become available within weeks.

“While the product is still in shortage, over the last week limited supplies have become available nationally, and supplies are expected to return to normal over the coming weeks,” the TGA said on Wednesday.

The regulatory body says the drug should only be purchased from an Australian pharmacy, dispensed on a valid doctor’s prescription, and warned that online advertisements were “a red flag”.

The TGA has warned consumers about online advertisements touting Ozempic for weight loss online, noting several current scams. File image. Credit: Supplied

It is illegal to publicly advertise prescription medicines such as Ozempic - including by influencers promoting the drug for weight loss - and it can incur an $888,000 fine for individuals and $4.44 million fine for corporations.

“If you see any Ozempic products being advertised online this is a clear warning sign that the advertisement could be a scam,” the TGA said.

‘I need this to live’

The TGA reports that more than 125,000 diabetics depend on the drug to survive in Australia.

Sarah Smith is one of them. For her, Ozempic can mean the difference between life and death, but last year she suddenly struggled to find it.

She went to her local pharmacy, where she would usually fill her script for Ozempic which helps her manage her type-2 diabetes, only to be told it was out of stock.

Sarah Smith needs the drug Ozempic to survive. Credit: Supplied

“I’ve got a serious health condition that’s not going away. I’ve got this for life, and I need to manage it, and you want to take away my medication so you don’t have to eat properly and do some exercise?” she told, addressing people who were using the drug for weight loss.

“It’s ridiculous.

“The consequences of poor diabetes management are serious. We need this medication to stay alive. We have no choice.

“I need this to live. You taking it has serious long-term health implications for me - don’t be so selfish.”

A troubling trend

Rumours that celebrities including Kim Kardashian have used the drug to drop dress sizes widely fuelled the weight loss trend documented under hashtags #ozempicjourney and #ozempicweightloss, collecting hundreds of millions of views.

In one TikTok video a woman revealed she weighed 80kg and was an Australian size 12 to 14. Her goal weight was 65kg or a size 8-10.

A week in, she’d lost 2.5kg. Two weeks in she revealed she’d gone “down a full dress size without trying to diet”.

TikTok videos promoting the drug as a weight loss solution have gone viral, but the TGA said they may also be prohibited according to the Act. Credit: TikTok

Endocrinologist and Australian Diabetes Society CEO Dr Sof Andrikopoulos told that while Ozempic is generally safe to use as a weight-loss drug, it isn’t authorised as such.

Andrikopoulos told that, in prescribing Ozempic for “off-label” use: “The doctor isn’t doing anything wrong ... the patient is paying full price for it.

“Except ... because it’s been written off-label, if that patient has an adverse event then that doctor is stuffed.”

In theory, the clinician must obtain informed consent from a patient, ensure it is an appropriate treatment option and that it carries a positive benefit-risk profile.

But Andrikopoulos said that in practice, it could be as simple as a patient going to their doctor, asking for a script and getting it.

Ozempic also has some side effects including gastrointestinal issues such as constipation, diarrhoea, bloating, vomiting and nausea.

“It increases the risk of pancreatitis, and it actually increases your heart rate by about two or three beats per minute,” he said.

TikTok videos are also reporting “Ozempic-face” after dramatic weight loss in the face leaves it looking aged.