As the Ozempic craze continues in kind, websites are now purporting to sell knockoffs of the injectable drug without a prescription — an escalation that seems both risky and shady.
The Wall Street Journal reports that it found more than 50 sites selling what they dubiously termed "pharmaceutical grade" semaglutide and tirzepatide, the active ingredients on Ozempic, Wegovy, and Mounjaro.
Ads for and on these sites, many of which are run by fitness entrepreneur types, often run promotions where customers can purchase what's being sold as semaglutide for roughly $100-200 per month. Given that a month's supply of the prescription version costs upwards of $1,350, and that insurance coverage has plummeted as the drugs gain popularity as a weight loss aid, it's no wonder some people are drawn in.
The sites, which appear to be operating beyond the purview of the Food and Drug Administration — and against social media community standards to boot — often warn that their wares are "not for human consumption" and sold only "for research purposes." But at the same time, the WSJ points out, they often provide instructions for human dosages, giving the whole thing a wink-wink vibe.
In interviews with the WSJ, people who purchased these knockoff semaglutide products said that they experienced everything from a general unease with the unregulated nature of the products to more severe adverse effects.
Amy Johnson, a bodybuilding hobbyist who has Type 1 diabetes, told the newspaper that she was ineligible for a prescription for a semaglutide injectable because her body mass index (BMI) fell under the "overweight" category. She decided to purchase the unregulated version online and things quickly went south as she developed stomach paralysis and experienced frequent vomiting within a few weeks of taking it. Soon afterward, she stopped using what she'd bought online entirely.
"I see there’s a reason it shouldn’t be sold on the black market," Johnson said. "It’s strange to me that I could find something like semaglutide so easily on the open web."
The WSJ notes that when it contacted Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, about the sites that appear to go against its standards, a spokesperson said that the company's "policies prohibit the advertisement of prescription drugs without the proper authorization and approval." Many of the first ads that the WSJ's reporters saw were taken down after they contacted Meta — only for others to spring up in their place, some of which advertised the same exact sites as the disappeared ads.
In a cursory Google search, Futurism also found that search engine provides sponsored results for even more unregulated semaglutide and tirzepatide, even though the company's own guidelines forbid running ads for pharmacies selling prescription drugs without a prescription.
"THIS ITEM DOES NOT COME PRE-MIXED," cautioned one site advertised on Google. "It comes in a lyophilized powder form. WE DO NOT SUPPLY BACTERIOSTATIC WATER OR SYRINGES IN ANY ORDER! THERE ARE NO REFUNDS ON THIS ITEM."
In response to questions about the ads, a Google spokesperson said the company had found them to "violate our policies" and removed them.
"Advertisers who have not completed our certification program are not allowed to promote the sale of prescription drugs," the spokesperson said. "This includes medications such as Ozempic, Wegovy, or Semaglutide."
Even properly prescribed Ozempic and Wegovy have been associated with health risks and a tendency to make people enjoy food less. With knockoffs sold online, potential issues proliferate. Are they even what they purport to be? If so, are they pure and accurate measured? Will people who buy them be able to measure and inject them safely and accurately? Will they be tempted to use unsafe doses?
Beyond the dangers of taking an unregulated drug are the social implications of such chemicals being so readily available.
Research has suggested that a staggering proportion of American women exhibit disordered eating behaviors, with many trying to lose weight regardless of whether they were overweight or not. With people already taking the drugs for weight loss purposes when they aren't overweight, it's hard to believe that easy access online won't lead to more of the same.
At the end of the day, the proliferation of dodgy online semaglutide and tirzepatide feels like the latest illustration of an old tension. Prohibition of drugs, after all, has seldom made people safer. At the same time, regulation exists for a reason — and maybe gatekeepers like the FDA, Facebook and Google shouldn't throw up their hands in the face of a lucrative new black market.
Updated with response from Google.
More on Ozempic: Scientist Behind Ozempic Warns That There's a "Price"
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