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Health authorities warn of serious risks from fake medicines

Health authorities have warned of the serious risks from fake medicines that claim to contain the same ingredient as the weight loss drug Ozempic after a massive upsurge in seizures in the last 12 months.

There have been 254 seizures of medicines claiming to contain semaglutide since the start of the year. That compares to just 32 seizures across the whole of 2022.

The warning from the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) came just 24 hours after it emerged that several people had to be hospitalised in Austria after using suspected fake versions of Ozempic in what was the first report of harm to users as a European hunt for counterfeiters widened.

The products, being sold online, claim to have semaglutide in a powder form even though that does not even exist.

Others claim to be a generic brand form of the substance. Legitimate medical treatments containing semaglutide, such as Ozempic or Wegovy, are still under patent.

Grainne Power, director of compliance with the Health Products Regulatory Authority, said they simply do not know what is in the products seized.

“We have no information on where they were sourced or under what conditions they were manufactured,” she warned.

“There is actually no authorised version of Semaglutide in powder form and any product of this nature promoted online is fake or falsified. 

"Likewise, there are no generic forms of semaglutide and any product of this nature promoted online is again fake or falsified.” 

There is no way of knowing the strength of any dose provided, she added.

“Anyone using semaglutide products that have been purchased online should stop using them immediately and contact a medical professional if they have concerns regarding their health,” she urged.

“Despite how they may be promoted or presented, it is not safe to purchase prescription medicines online, and doing so puts your health at risk.” 

Among the 254 units of products seized this year were vials of white powder or clear liquid labelled as containing semaglutide and boxed pens presented as generic versions.

The European Medicines Agency warned last week about pre-filled pens falsely labelled as Ozempic in Austria, Germany, and the UK.

However, the HPRA said those particular pens have not been seen in Ireland yet.

Ozempic is a diabetes medicine used with diet and exercise to treat adults with Type 2 diabetes, and studies show patients also saw a fall in body weight, the EMA said.

Its popularity has soared online with the hashtag #ozempic having 1.3bn views on TikTok and almost 125,000 posts on Instagram up to Wednesday.