Sharp rise in weight loss drug overdoses reported by poison control centers

Poison control centers across the US have reported a surge in calls related to semaglutide, an injectable medication prescribed for diabetes and weight loss. 

Some people have reported symptoms that suggest accidental overdoses, leading to cases of severe nausea, vomiting, and stomach pain. Fortunately, most cases have resolved after patients receive intravenous fluids and medications to control nausea.

Originally approved by the US Food and Drug Administration in 2017, semaglutide is marketed as Ozempic for diabetes and Wegovy for weight loss. Even when used as directed by a physician, it can sometimes cause stomach and bowel side effects, particularly nausea, vomiting, and constipation, especially during initial usage.

From January to November, America’s Poison Centers recorded nearly 3,000 calls involving semaglutide, a more than 15-fold increase since 2019. In 94% of these cases, semaglutide was the sole reported substance. 

The surge in demand for Ozempic for weight loss has followed celebrity endorsements on social media in 2022, which led to a shortage by March 2022. This has meant a rise in issues like fake products, as well as some pharmacies producing compounded versions to meet demand. 

These compounded versions often contain semaglutide salts such as semaglutide sodium and semaglutide acetate. The FDA has cautioned against these compounded versions, as they have not had the same safety and efficacy testing as the patented form.

Despite these warnings, however, compounded versions remain popular due to cost savings, especially for uninsured patients. 

Although poison control centers can’t be sure if these illnesses are down to patented or compounded drugs, some state directors believe they are linked to compounded versions. 

Those suspecting an overdose are advised to monitor for signs of low blood sugar, particularly if taking other diabetes medications concurrently. Symptoms may include lightheadedness, shakiness, sweating, irritability, headache, weakness, fatigue, nausea/vomiting, seizures, confusion, and loss of consciousness.

In a written statement, Novo Nordisk, the manufacturer of Ozempic and Wegovy, said patient safety is its top priority.“We are taking multiple steps to ensure responsible use of our semaglutide medicines which are detailed on,” the statement said.

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