Weight‑loss drugs: High demand triggers surge in counterfeits

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Against the backdrop of a booming demand, a rapid increase in counterfeit weight loss drugs is observed. In Europe, counterfeits of Novo Nordisk’s Ozempic pen in particular are making headlines. Hundreds of counterfeit pens have also been found in Germany.

The strong demand for innovative weight loss drugs has apparently fueled a worldwide increase in respective counterfeits. This is what several interviews conducted by Reuters with representatives of law enforcement and health authorities, among others, have shown. The drugs affected include those from Novo Nordisk containing semaglutide as active ingredient – sold under the trade names Ozempic and Wegovy – as well as, for example, Mounjaro from the US manufacturer Eli Lilly.

In Europe, Ozempic is a particular concern, according to a Europol official in the Reuters report. Counterfeit weight‑loss drugs would accordingly also be a focus of the next Europol report on counterfeit medicines, which is due to be published next year. According to Reuters, counterfeit Ozempic pharmaceuticals have already been found in at least 14 countries, including Egypt, Germany, and the United Kingdom.

According to research by the German media outlets NDR, WDR, and Süddeutsche Zeitung, the whereabouts of over 1,000 suspected counterfeit Ozempic pens are currently uncertain. This is based on reports of the European Working Group of Enforcement Officers (WGEO), a working group in which pharmaceutical regulatory authorities such as the German Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices (BfArM) coordinate their activities.

The focus of the case includes the wholesaler Pharma Medtec from Lörrach in Baden‑Württemberg, which, according to media reports, is alleged to have bought hundreds of counterfeit Ozempic pens. The counterfeits are alleged to have been supplied by the Austrian company AZ Naturemed, which is also believed to have sold counterfeit weight‑loss pens to a British wholesaler. AZ Naturemed itself allegedly purchased the counterfeit Ozempic pens from the company ILTS‑Forwarding based in Neuss in North Rhine‑Westphalia. This company is suspected of having bought the counterfeits from a Turkish company and then distributing at least some of them. In early November, police officers carried out a search at ILTS‑Forwarding.

Since October, the BfArM has been publishing regular updates on the latest developments regarding counterfeit Ozempic pens. The authority considers it to be particularly dangerous that the counterfeit Ozempic products purchased in Lörrach would actually contain insulin instead of the active ingredient semaglutide. If people inject themselves with insulin without a medical reason, this could be life‑threatening.

The BfArM has also provided information on how to distinguish originals from possible counterfeits. In addition to images comparing originals and counterfeit products, the BfArM provides a description of features that those affected can check. The original manufacturer Novo Nordisk has also published relevant information. The BfArM is also asking pharmacies to check the authenticity of all packages. To do this, they should compare the products with the images and features described – and also check them using the securPharm security system.

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