Weight loss medications such as Ozempic and Wegovy have become so popular that—amid widespread shortages—the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is issuing a warning to consumers to avoid off-brand versions of the drugs.
These off-brand versions of the drugs contain semaglutide, the active ingredient in the brand-name medications, which have been compounded by pharmacies and are often sold online. However, FDA officials have been receiving reports of unspecified “adverse” reactions from people using these medications, which contain a version of semaglutide used in lab research that has not yet been approved for patient use.
The agency warns that consumers should only use prescription drugs containing semaglutide issued by a licensed health care provider, and obtained from a state-licensed, FDA-registered pharmacy.
“Patients should not use a compounded drug if an approved drug is available to treat a patient,” the FDA warning states. “Patients and health care professionals should understand that the agency does not review compounded versions of these drugs for safety, effectiveness, or quality.”
Ozempic was initially designed to treat Type 2 diabetes, but has seen explosive popularity as a weight loss drug starting in 2022 thanks to a combination of social media and Telehealth prescriptions.
The drug works by mimicking a hormone called glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1), which is released in the gastrointestinal tract in response to eating. The GLP-1 targets the area of the brain that regulates appetite and food intake, prompting the body to produce more insulin, which in turn reduces blood glucose and curbs overall cravings.
Because of the increased demand, the shortage is impacting Type 2 diabetes patients who rely on the drug to control their blood sugar. Compounding pharmacies are allowed to produce versions of medications on the FDA’s list of drug shortages— and as of May, both Ozempic and Wegovy remained on that list.