Several people have been hospitalized in Austria after taking a counterfeit version of diabetes drug Ozempic to lose weight, authorities said, after the European Medicines Agency warned last week of the spread of fake Ozempic pens across Europe.
The Austrian Federal Crime Office said Monday that individuals taking the counterfeit product could have died without immediate treatment.
“The syringes can be obtained legally only by physicians through pharmacies, or by physicians who have a home pharmacy. In this case, the syringes are likely to have been obtained via another route,” the crime agency said in a statement.
Criminal organizations have been taking advantage of delivery bottlenecks for Ozempic, a diabetes drug that has become increasingly popular for weight loss. They are selling counterfeit products that contain insulin rather than semaglutide, the active ingredient in Ozempic, the Austrian federal health office warned.
Stocks of the affected batch may still be in circulation or have been obtained by other physicians via this route, the authorities warned, advising people to throw away potential counterfeits “from dubious sources” to avoid endangering their health.
Belgium has meanwhile announced steps to temporarily ban the use of the drug for weight loss for a few weeks or months to safeguard supplies for diabetes patients.
“It is necessary to protect this precious medicine for people who absolutely need it. Without this medicine, these patients run real health risks,” Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke told RTBF on Monday.
A working group will meet on Wednesday to discuss possible changes in Belgian legislation to reserve the drug to treat patients with type 2 diabetes, Vandenbroucke said.