UK Medicines regulator warns on Ozempic fakes

The UK Medicines regulator warns the public to beware of fake Ozempic and Saxenda pens - buy only from reputable companies 

Important Warning

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has issued a warning to the public against buying pre-filled pens claiming to contain Ozempic (semaglutide) or Saxenda (liraglutide) from non-legitimate routes. Both semaglutide and liraglutide are prescription-only medicines and must only be prescribed by a qualified healthcare professional.

Saxenda, which is authorised in the UK for weight loss, along with diet and exercise, and Ozempic, which is authorised for the treatment of adults with type 2 diabetes, have been seized for being potentially fake. The MHRA has confiscated 369 fake Ozempic pens since January 2023 and has also received reports of fake Saxenda pens in the UK. 

Fake Ozempic or Saxenda pens may increase risk of coma

Although these fake Ozempic pens are being marketed as weight loss aids, their authenticity cannot be guaranteed, and they may contain harmful substances, as highlighted by the serious side effects reported of those hospitalised, including hypoglycaemic shock and coma. These incidents indicate that the pens may contain insulin rather than semaglutide.

Buying prescription-only medicines outside of the legal supply chain poses a direct danger to health and is illegal. Dr Alison Cave, MHRA Chief Safety Officer, warned that buying products like Ozempic or Saxenda without a prescription from legally registered and recognised pharmacies significantly increases the risk of receiving fake or unlicensed medicines that do not meet the strict quality and safety standards of the UK. She advised that the public should not use pre-filled weight loss pens purchased online and instead report it to the MHRA for investigation and necessary action.

Minister: "Don’t risk your health"

Health Minister Will Quince said that fraudsters selling black market medicines like these are extremely dangerous and can put people’s health at risk. He reiterated the importance of medical advice and urged patients only to use prescription medicines if subscribed by a legitimate source like their GP. MHRA safety advice when buying medicines online can be found on the #FakeMeds website with tools and resources.

The MHRA’s warning highlights the significance of following strict laws and regulations for the safe supply of prescription and non-prescription medicines. The MHRA’s previous warnings on the dangers of buying medicines online alerted the public of the presence of fake or mislabelled medicines. Criminals use various techniques to sell illegal medicines online, including sites designed to look like legitimate pharmacies or online retailers.

It is essential that patients are cautious when buying medicines online and obtain it from legally recognised and registered pharmacies. Health professionals can prescribe medicines that are appropriate and safe for specific ailments and offer advice towards healthy living and changes to diet and exercise that can complement medical treatment.

MHRA Yellow Card scheme

Patients should report any suspected fake medicine to the MHRA’s Yellow Card scheme. It is equally important that pharmacies operate within the legal framework to ensure the safe supply of regulated medicines, in compliance with the GPhC standards.

Obesity UK and MHRA advise only taking medication prescribed by a qualified medical/healthcare professional, and caution the public against taking medicines purchased from non-trusted sources. The MHRA is working to ensure that illegal online suppliers are eradicated, to provide greater protection to the public. Patients should report any concerns or adverse effects related to medicines that they have procured from online sources to their healthcare professional, and where necessary, to the MHRA through their Yellow Card Scheme.

So, what does it all mean?

Patients should only use prescription medicines that have been approved as safe and effective by qualified healthcare professionals. Buying medicines online from non-legitimate sources can be harmful to health, and the MHRA continues with its campaign against illegal and unregulated sites offering prescription-only medication. It is essential for patients’ safety and wellbeing that they obtain medicines from legally registered pharmacies, regulated by the GPhC, and receive guidance on healthy living and diet and exercise practices that can complement medical care and support fuller recovery and improved health outcomes.

Published: 30 Oct  2023