Fake Wegovy and Ozempic warnings: What to know

Health authorities are issuing alerts about counterfeit versions of popular weight-loss and diabetes medications. The World Health Organization (WHO) and Eli Lilly and Co. urge consumers to be vigilant and cautious.

On Thursday, WHO disclosed that it has received multiple reports of fake semaglutide, the key ingredient in Novo Nordisk’s Wegovy and Ozempic, distributed across various regions worldwide since 2022.

Eli Lilly, in an open letter, voiced "deep concern" about the increasing prevalence of fraudulent or compounded versions of tirzepatide, which is used in its drugs Mounjaro and Zepbound. The company highlighted the danger of these fake drugs being promoted and sold online.

Based in Indianapolis, Eli Lilly stressed that it is the exclusive authorized supplier of these medications and does not distribute tirzepatide to compounding pharmacies, wellness centers, or online retailers.

Lilly underscored that counterfeit versions of its drugs, commonly found online, are never safe to use. Novo Nordisk has also issued similar warnings in the past regarding its products.

WHO recommended that patients protect their health by purchasing medications only with prescriptions from licensed physicians and avoiding unfamiliar sources.

Lilly further clarified that any products labeled as tirzepatide but not branded as Mounjaro or Zepbound are not produced by the company and lack approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Last year, the FDA reported seizing "thousands of units" of counterfeit Ozempic, a diabetes drug widely used for weight loss, that had been distributed through legitimate drug supply sources. The FDA and Novo Nordisk are testing the seized shots but have not yet determined their identity, quality, or safety. The FDA stated that five illnesses have been linked to the fake shots, though none have been serious.

Some of the fake 1 milligram semaglutide shots may still be for sale, the FDA warned. The agency noted that not only the drug itself but also the needles, pen labels, cartons, and accompanying healthcare information are counterfeit.

Warning signs of fake medications

Patients should be aware of the potential for counterfeit products when purchasing medications, especially popular ones like Wegovy and Ozempic. Here are some warning signs to watch for:

  • Unfamiliar packaging: Legitimate medications come in packaging that is consistent and professional. Look for misspellings or unusual fonts.
  • Unlicensed sellers: Always purchase medications from licensed pharmacies. Avoid online retailers or wellness centers that do not have proper credentials.
  • Too good to be true prices: If the price seems unusually low, it may be counterfeit.
  • No prescription required: Reputable suppliers will always require a prescription from a licensed physician.

Steps to protect yourself

To ensure you are getting legitimate medication, follow these steps:

  • Verify the source: Only buy from licensed pharmacies and familiar sources.
  • Consult your physician: Use prescriptions from licensed physicians and consult with them if you have any concerns about the medication.
  • Check approvals: Ensure the medication is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration or other relevant health authorities.

Impact of fake medications

The use of counterfeit medications can have serious health implications. Fake drugs may contain incorrect or harmful ingredients, leading to adverse effects or ineffective treatment. It is crucial to stay informed and cautious to protect your health.

The Associated Press contributed to this story. It was reported from Los Angeles.