The soaring demand for Novo Nordisk’s Ozempic and similar weight-loss drugs is giving rise to a global epidemic of counterfeit versions, as reported by interviews with law enforcement, anti-counterfeiting experts, and public health officials conducted by Reuters.
The Pharmaceutical Security Institute (PSI), a U.S.-based industry organization supported by pharmaceutical giants Novo Nordisk and Eli Lilly, is collaborating with various agencies such as Europol, Interpol, and U.S. Homeland Security.
They are also partnering with companies like Israel’s BrandShield to identify counterfeit products.
Their collective efforts involve investigating complaints of fake drugs, monitoring e-commerce platforms and social media for illicit offers or advertisements, and educating customs officials on counterfeit detection.
Novo Nordisk’s Ozempic, originally designed to treat diabetes, contains semaglutide, which is also a key component in their weight loss medication, Wegovy.
Both drugs are now in high demand among individuals seeking to shed excess weight, along with Lilly’s Mounjaro, which is currently approved for diabetes and expected to receive FDA approval for obesity treatment soon. All three drugs are facing shortages due to the global obesity epidemic and the prevalence of diabetes.
Jim Mancuso, Director of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center, emphasized the popularity of these weight loss drugs in the media and warned of the potential for criminal organizations to exploit this trend.
Law enforcement agencies worldwide are collaborating to combat what could become a major surge in counterfeit lifestyle medicines, akin to the proliferation of counterfeit erectile dysfunction drugs like Viagra.
Novo Nordisk stressed that Ozempic and Wegovy are intended for diabetes and weight loss treatment, respectively, despite their off-label use as lifestyle treatments in the United States.
They are actively working with PSI and law enforcement to combat counterfeiting.
Lilly, too, is actively deterring counterfeiters through investigations, internet monitoring, legal actions, and partnerships with government and non-government organizations.
Europol officials have noted that Ozempic is a prime target in Europe for counterfeiters, with counterfeit versions already discovered in multiple countries, including the UK, Germany, Egypt, and Russia.
Several countries have issued warnings to pharmacies and consumers about counterfeit drugs, given the uncertainty surrounding their composition.
Counterfeit obesity drugs, particularly those targeting affluent regions in North America, Europe, and the Middle East due to their high prices, have become a significant concern for Interpol.
These counterfeit drugs pose substantial health risks, as noted by the World Health Organization.
In response to the rising cases of counterfeit weight loss drugs, regulatory authorities like MHRA in the UK and Ireland’s Health Products Regulatory Authority are intensifying efforts to combat this growing threat, seizing counterfeit units and issuing warnings to protect public health.
The battle against counterfeit medicines remains a pressing global challenge.