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23 Nov

The damaging world of black market Ozempic

It’s clear that there must be a crackdown on unlicensed sellers of weight reduction drugs that are putting the health of vulnerable people in danger

Michelle first used a semaglutide ‘skinny jab’ two years ago, after a consultation with a registered nurse. But when Michelle sought one other prescription this autumn, she found that the surge in demand for semaglutide had resulted in a supply shortage. Unable to access the drug via a good source, Michelle turned to social media.

She soon found an organization on Facebook promoting products advertised as “skinny jabs and pretend tan jabs”, and sent them a message asking if she could buy certainly one of their injector pens. “They asked me no questions,” she says. “All they wanted from me was my postal details.”

Weight-loss drugs have dominated the cultural conversation in 2023. This is essentially because of the explosion in demand for semaglutide, normally sold under the brand names Ozempic or Wegovy, each of that are manufactured by Danish pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk. Semaglutide was originally created to treat diabetes by regulating blood sugar levels, but has since change into a well-liked off-label treatment for weight reduction attributable to its ability to curb hunger and slow stomach emptying.

Earlier within the yr, Ozempic was largely thought to be the preserve of the elite. Hollywood actors and Manhattanites were using it. Elon Musk admitted to using it. Kim Kardashian denied using it – but rumours swirled that she, too, had dosed as much as fit into Marilyn’s dress on the 2022 Met Gala. But now, semaglutide has gone mainstream, and everyone wants in: Novo Nordisk recently reported that in the primary nine months of 2023, their sales grew by 33 per cent and it’s $413 billion market value now exceeds your complete GDP of Denmark. The surge in demand has been so great that it has triggered global shortages of Ozempic and Wegovy, leading to diabetics struggling to access their medication and driving people eager to shed extra pounds into the arms of snake oil merchants.

It’s illegal to sell semaglutide without a prescription within the UK, but that hasn’t done much to discourage sellers. “The drug has received widespread attention from the media highlighting its effectiveness at contributing to sustained weight reduction, and so understandably those that don’t meet the factors [to access the drug on the NHS] but want to shed extra pounds want access to it,” explains Dr Simon Cork a senior lecturer in physiology at Anglia Ruskin University. “Weight reduction is a multi-billion pound industry, so it just isn’t surprising that unscrupulous individuals are cashing in on this by promoting counterfeit versions.”

Michelle says the strategy of buying an ‘Ozempic pen’ from a web based seller was “very easy”: she simply sent the corporate £150 over PayPal and received the jab inside two working days. “I felt a bit bit apprehensive, however it did look almost equivalent to an Ozempic pen,” she recalls. “I didn’t hearken to my gut and took it.”

Michelle soon began to feel “very disorientated, very confused” and developed a fever. “I just didn’t know what was happening around me. I felt very nauseous, very sick,” she says. 20 minutes later, Michelle’s daughter found her “slumped down” and losing consciousness. She contacted certainly one of her mother’s close friends, who got here over and immediately called an ambulance. Paramedics spent over an hour attempting to stabilise Michelle, and she or he was taken to hospital after having a seizure. When she eventually stabilised, doctors explained to Michelle that she had not injected herself with Ozempic in any respect. As an alternative, they believed the injector pen she used had contained 14 to 16 units of insulin, causing her blood sugar level to drop dangerously low. “The doctors told me I used to be lucky to be alive,” she says.

“Consider your health first. I made very bad selections as I’m so unhappy with my body, but now I feel it’s higher to watch out” – Jenna

Worryingly, Michelle’s case isn’t an isolated incident. The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency revealed in October that since January 2023, that they had seized 369 potentially fake Ozempic pens, and recent investigations have uncovered a flourishing online black market of weight reduction drugs. Talking to Dazed, one other woman named Jenna says that she also had a foul experience after purchasing every week’s supply of weight loss program pills for £45 from an organization she found on TikTok. After the vendor assured her the pills were “100 per cent secure”, Jenna took one.

“At first, I felt a lot energy,” she recalls. “But inside an hour… oh my god, things got very different.” Jenna began to feel incredibly dizzy and lightheaded and needed to lie down. “I used to be pumping with sweat, I couldn’t speak properly,” she says. “When it wore off I threw away the tablets and messaged the girl, asking her what the hell was in them.” Jenna received no response. “People have no idea what they’re buying,” Dr Cork says, explaining that given the worldwide shortages, it’s unlikely that any seller would have the option to acquire real semaglutide.

To anyone who has never struggled intensely with body image issues, the concept that someone would purchase and use medication bought off social media may be difficult to grasp. But in our aesthetics-obsessed society, people – particularly women – are socialised to view their appearance as intertwined with their self-worth. “If being beautiful is the status marker for a lady’s value, losing a few pounds can feel like a matter of social life and death,” explains Charlotte Fox Weber, psychotherapist and writer of What We Want: A Journey Through Twelve of Our Deepest Desires. “It could actually feel like a very powerful thing on the earth and might decrease an strange sense of risk within the willingness to try anything. Agony and misery over body shame results in desperation and impulsiveness.” Essentially, it tracks that ladies are risking their health – and lives – to shed extra pounds, considering that society has pushed them thus far.

It’s a problem that affects hundreds of thousands within the UK, too. Over one in six women feel negatively about their bodies while 35 per cent of all adults say they’ve felt “depressed” due to their body image. “A whole lot of women have huge insecurities about their body, and it’s just really, really sad that folks are then earning money off these insecurities and sending incredibly dangerous products out to them,” Michelle says. Fox Weber adds that “women are pressured to be thin and so they’re then mocked for going about it within the flawed way […] even when the drugs don’t work, compassion for individuals who have hoped they’ll work seems essential.”

“Women are pressured to be thin and so they’re then mocked for going about it within the flawed way” – Charlotte Fox Weber

For each Michelle and Jenna, these frightening experiences have been a wake-up call. I still have my insecurities about my body, but I feel incredibly silly,” Michelle says. “I assumed: ‘what am I showing my daughter, by taking things like that?’ It doesn’t set a great example.” Jenna adds she would urge anyone to be cautious in relation to taking drastic motion to shed extra pounds. “Consider your health first,” she says. “I made very bad selections as I’m so unhappy with my body, but now I feel it’s higher to watch out.”

Ultimately, though, it’s not so simple as urging people to eschew online sellers and persist with looking for out weight-loss drugs from licensed professionals. As evidenced, counterfeit drugs might be life-threatening, but using ‘real’ semaglutide is removed from risk-free. It could actually be dangerous for anyone with a history of tension, heart problems, or disordered eating, and unintended effects can include nausea, diarrhoea, dizziness, and constipation. In rare cases, it could cause renal failure, pancreatitis and intestinal obstruction, and a top scientist has warned that it numbs people’s ability to feel pleasure and makes life “so miserably boring”. It’s also value reiterating that it’s ultimately a drug that was created specifically for individuals with diabetes – not for non-diabetic individuals who simply wish to lose just a few kilos.

“The foremost danger comes from the risk-to-benefit ratio […] The risks of being marginally chubby – or in some cases, not chubby but still wanting to shed extra pounds – may not outweigh the risks related to the drug,” Dr Cork explains. “This is especially the case in patients who’re purchasing this drug privately and who are usually not otherwise monitored. There may be also a risk that quick access to this drug means those with body dysmorphia, for whom weight reduction drugs could possibly be very dangerous, could pay money for them.”

There’s no crystal clear, ‘binary’ distinction between secure, legitimate Ozempic and unsafe, counterfeit Ozempic. So with this in mind, perhaps it might be more useful to tackle the issue at the foundation and take a look at to unpick and address the the explanation why people feel compelled to risk their health simply to lose a little bit of weight. Evidently, there may be a desperate need for a crackdown on snake oil merchants shilling life-threatening pills and jabs to innocent customers, but we shouldn’t forget that we also desperately must crack down on our appearance-obsessed culture, too.

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