Social media platforms are being used by online scammers to sell unsafe weight-loss drugs to people with diabetes due to an ongoing shortage of GLP-1 agonists.
Individuals struggling to maintain their supply of weight-loss drugs are now being tempted by social media accounts to buy unapproved versions of tirzepatide, which can be dangerous for their health.
Experts have instructed people with diabetes to avoid turning to social media to buy the drug as there is no proof that medications purchased online are safe.
Tirzepatide works by helping the individual feel full on less food and slowing the passage of food through the digestive tract. The drug also boosts the production of insulin.
According to diabetes expert, Dr Julio Rosenstock, tirzepatide really is the King Kong of all weight loss medications.
In recent months, semaglutide has soared in popularity, causing a global shortage of the medication.
Professor Partha Kar, NHS England’s diabetes adviser, said: “We have a massive stock problem with semaglutide, so I feel there is a need for tirzepatide to become available.
“Clinically, in type 2 diabetes, the data looks really strong. In head-to-head trials with semaglutide, it comes out better.”
He added: “I wasn’t at the first committee meeting but the decision not to approve it surprised me.
“That’s why I went [in August]. The question will be whether it is cost effective and NICE will have to work with [tirzepatide manufacturer] Eli Lilly to agree a price. We are hoping for a positive result this time.”
Accounts online are now selling weight-loss drugs without needing to show a prescription. One account sends people to a website which is selling tirzepatide for as little as £160. Meanwhile, another provides you with a number to WhatsApp.
A representative from the MHRA said: “The MHRA Criminal Enforcement Unit works to identify those unlawfully trading in medicines and we will use our powers to take enforcement action, including prosecuting those who put your health at risk.
“Buying any medical product from illegally trading online suppliers significantly increases the risk of getting a product which is either falsified or not licensed for use in the UK. Taking such medicines may put your health at risk.”
Otherwise known as Ozempic, semaglutide has been prescribed in the UK for people with type 2 diabetes since 2019.
However, stocks have been running out due to many people using the drug as a way to lose weight.
Reports show that celebrities are fond of the drug, with Kim Kardashian using it to fit into one of Marilyn Monroe’s dresses.
The MHRA issued a safety alert in July to stop doctors from prescribing semaglutide to people who simply want to lose weight.
Currently, the drug can only be prescribed to people with type 2 diabetes who were using the drug before the shortage.
Supplies are unlikely to return to normal until the middle of next year, according to the manufacturer of the drug Novo Nordisk.
Dr Spencer Nadolsky said: “It’s the most powerful drug of its kind. It results in better blood sugar control and patients are happier because they’ve lost weight and feel great.
“They say it quiets down the food noise – that unrelenting thinking about food people describe. That really improves quality of life.”
He added: “’At the moment it’s only available for diabetes, but people hear about it on social media and come and ask for it.
“That’s been a huge part of why these treatments are so popular. If people can’t get it – if their insurer won’t fund it, for instance – then we do see them going online and buying fakes. It’s a big concern.”
Dr David Strain, Clinical Senior Lecturer at the University of Exeter, said: “There is no doubt [tirzepatide] is better than semaglutide at controlling blood sugar and helping patients lose weight, but we know from studies that semaglutide does more than that.
“Taken for long enough, it reduces fatal and non-fatal heart attacks and strokes. That’s why NICE decided it was cost effective to prescribe the drug widely.”
He evaluated: “We just don’t know yet whether tirzepatide, which does the same thing but uses slightly different chemical pathways, will provide the same knock-on benefits.
“It probably will, but because it’s brand new we just don’t have enough evidence to say for certain.”
Professor Kausik Ray noted: “This drug gives us something we’ve never had before – a medication that works as well as bariatric [weight-loss] surgery. That’s how effective it is.
“I am pretty confident NICE will approve it soon and it’ll be available before the end of the year, as tackling diabetes and obesity is a priority for the Government. But it’s likely there will be restrictions.”