Almost 75% of Americans are clinically defined as overweight or obese, and over 11% have diabetes. America’s obsession with weight loss and dieting is well-documented, with a staggering $30 billion spent each year on diet products. Because of this, it is no surprise that drugs like semaglutide, liraglutide, and tirzepatide have “gone viral.” This class of drugs, with brand names like Ozempic, Wegovy, and Mounjaro, are approved to treat patients with diabetes and obesity. Due to the popularity of these drugs, many have been in shortage since 2022, and, unfortunately, bad actors have taken advantage of their demand. 

Our new RogueRx Activity Report discusses how criminals have seized the opportunity to illegally sell these drugs online, putting patients at risk. 

How are Illegal Injectable Weight Loss Drugs Being Sold? 

When drugs are in shortage, desperate patients are more likely to look for the drugs online. In addition, injectable weight loss drugs are often not covered by insurance, making some patients more likely to pay out of pocket. When patients purchase drugs from illegal online sellers, they frequently don’t fully understand the risks of taking the illegally sold drugs. For instance, fake Ozempic has been found in the US and in Europe. In one instance, an Ozempic pen contained insulin as opposed to semaglutide, causing hospitalizations of patients experiencing seizures and dangerously low blood sugar. 

Many illegal online pharmacies belong to large, rogue online pharmacy networks. While some of these illegal online drug sellers make it obvious that they are selling drugs without requiring a prescription, others try to mimic legal sellers. In some cases, the illegal sellers will market the drugs as “research chemicals” or “peptides” in an effort to avoid law enforcement.

Bad actors selling illegal injectable weight loss drugs are also taking advantage of social media to reach vulnerable populations. Although social platforms regularly remove illegal content, the sellers use many tactics, like misspelling and nicknames, to avoid detection by the platform’s automated compliance tools. 

A screenshot of Ozempic listed for sale illegally on a social media website.
In the above photo, semaglutide is misspelled possibly to avoid compliance detection.

What Steps are Government Agencies Taking to Increase Patient Safety? 

Regulators are taking action to stop the illegal sale of injectable weight loss drugs. In addition to seizing fake drugs and alerting pharmacists and patients about fake lot numbers, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is regularly issuing warning letters to illegal online pharmacy operators. Law enforcement agencies are also collaborating internationally to take down sellers of substandard and falsified drugs.  

We recommend that pharmacists and patients report these illegal sellers to FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations (OCI), state boards of pharmacy, and state attorney generals

Patients are encouraged to visit NABP’s Safe Pharmacy website for resources, such as the Safe Site Search Tool, to help protect them when purchasing medication online. Learn more by reading the RogueRx Activity Report.