December 1, 2023

People desperate to lose weight have been flocking to online businesses that advertise easy prescriptions for a new generation of drugs that cause dramatic weight loss, known collectively as GLP-1 receptor agonists. Some of these internet weight loss programs appear to conduct minimal medical evaluations, and some hawk unregulated “compounded” versions of the drugs.

The drug manufacturers have taken notice. Novo Nordisk, the company that makes semaglutide (Ozempic, Wegovy, and Rybelsus), has announced it’s suing med spas, weight loss clinics, and compounding pharmacies “to protect U.S. patients from the unlawful marketing and sales of non-FDA [U.S. Food and Drug Administration] approved counterfeit and compounded semaglutide products claiming to contain semaglutide, while reinforcing the responsible use of Novo Nordisk’s FDA-approved medicines.” The company also warned consumers to watch out for counterfeit Ozempic.

Research has shown semaglutide helps users lose 15 percent of their body weight on average, though only Wegovy is indicated for use as an anti-obesity drug. Ozempic and Mounjaro (tirzepatide) are approved to treat type 2 diabetes, but that hasn’t stopped many doctors from prescribing the latter two medications “off-label” for weight loss. A recent analysis found that more than half of new Ozempic and Mounjaro users did not have type 2 diabetes.

Meanwhile, faced with an overwhelming demand for these expensive anti-obesity drugs, health insurers have begun to crack down on coverage. So how are these people getting the medications? Some are bending, and sometimes breaking, the rules.


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