The WHO (World Health Organization) issued an alert, on Monday (29), about the increase in counterfeiting of the medicines Ozempic and Wegovy, manufactured by Novo Nordisk. In Brazil, Anvisa (National Health Surveillance Agency) has already recognized three counterfeit batches.
The first batch was identified in June 2023 and the most recent on the 10th. They are: LP6F832, MP5C960 and MP5A064 —the last two with packaging in Spanish and a concentration of 1 mg, different from that stated in the original medicine.
The global organization attributes the rise in fake medicines to a global shortage of injectable products indicated for the treatment of type 2 diabetes and, sometimes, approved for weight loss. “Shortages negatively affect access to medical products and create a vacuum that is often filled by counterfeit versions,” says the note.
The shortage occurs due to the high demand for the medicine, according to the pharmaceutical company. “Slimming pens” have gone viral on social media as an effective and quick method for losing weight.
In the United States, semaglutide —active ingredient in Ozempic and Wegovy— is on the list of missing drugs maintained by the FDA (regulatory agency that corresponds to Anvisa). In Brazil, Wegovy, promised to arrive in pharmacies in 2023, is not yet available.
Novo Nordisk, however, states that Ozempic 0.25 mg and 0.5 mg have been standardly available on the Brazilian market since September 2023. The 1 mg presentation will continue with intermittent availability during the first half of 2024 “due to the demand greater than expected”.
According to the WHO, the combination of scarcity of the original medicine and the availability of counterfeit ones can generate disproportionate consequences for patients with type 2 diabetes, since counterfeit medicines are not effective and can cause toxic reactions. In Austria, several people were hospitalized after injecting doses of misleading medication.
“It’s unpredictable what could happen. [com a saúde de quem usa medicamentos falsos]”, says Marcio Mancini, endocrinologist at the Brazilian Society of Endocrinology and Metabology of São Paulo (Sbem). “The source is unknown [do remédio], how it is manipulated, manufactured, or what its harm is. Depending on the practice, there may even be bacteria.”
Mancini states that patients should pay attention to the drug formats and always be suspicious of anything out of the ordinary, such as a price much lower than the market price.
In November, the pharmaceutical company issued a scam alert to users, informing them that their employees “do not get in touch offering special promotions” and asking them to be suspicious of “any message” with this profile.
The WHO advises, in the statement, buyers to purchase their medicines through authorized and regulated suppliers. Counterfeit versions are most often sold and distributed through unregulated outlets, including social media platforms.