U.S. poison control centers reported a surge in calls related to popular semaglutide-containing drugs for weight loss and Type 2 diabetes such as Ozempic and Wegovy

In the period from January to November 2023, America’s Poison Control Centers received about 3,000 calls for semaglutide, CNN reported. That number represents a 15-fold increase since 2019. 

According to the centers, people using the injected medications reported dosing errors and accidental overdoses that led to symptoms. Some callers suffered vomiting, nausea and stomach pain and had to be hospitalized. 

Wegovy is FDA-approved for weight loss, while Ozempic is only approved for Type 2 diabetes. However, doctors can prescribe Ozempic off-label for weight loss. Many people self-administer semaglutide injections, and many of the calls came from people reporting dosing errors.

“Oftentimes, it’s a person who maybe accidentally took a double dose or took the wrong dose,” Dr. Kait Brown, clinical managing director of America’s Poison Control Centers told CNN. 

Fortunately, people who had to be hospitalized recovered after taking anti-nausea medications and receiving intravenous fluids. 

Compounded Versions of Semaglutide Included in Overdose Reports

While poison control centers reported dosing problems with the click pens that come with brand-name semaglutide drugs, they also reported calls related to the multidose vial compounded versions of the drug. The FDA does not review compounded versions for safety or effectiveness. 

The popularity of Ozempic and Wegovy exploded, thanks in part to celebrities and social media, and the drugs landed on the FDA’s drug shortage list. They first entered shortage in March 2022 and remain in limited supply. 

When a drug is in short supply, the FDA allows compounders to make a compounded version. Compounded versions are cheaper than brand-name drugs; however, they aren’t without risk. The FDA warned against using compounded semaglutide in October 2023 after it received reports of adverse events. 

“It is important to be aware of the differences between the FDA-approved brand semaglutide, such as Ozempic and Wegovy, versus the other compounded versions. Some manufacturers compound this medication with different salt forms of the drug that were not part of the research studies. The absorption rate of these other compounds may be different than the brand form and could lead to high drug concentrations in the body,” according to pharmacist and Drugwatch expert Neisha Hacker-Finey. 

Patients who think they have overdosed on semaglutide should contact their local poison control center or call the toll-free Poison Help Line at 800-222-1222. The U.S. Health Resources & Services Administration website also lists Poison Centers in every state. 

As of Dec. 11, 2023, Ozempic injections with a 2.68 mg semaglutide dose will have limited availability until the end of 2023, according to the FDA. All dose strengths of Wegovy except for the 2.4 mg dose currently have limited availability, and the FDA has no estimate of when the shortage will end. 

Lawyers Investigate Thousands of Ozempic Side Effect Lawsuits

While adverse events with compounded drugs are a problem, even when people take the brand name Ozempic and Wegovy as directed, there is a risk of side effects. The most reported Ozempic side effects are gastrointestinal events, such as nausea, vomiting and stomach pain. 

However, some people filed lawsuits against Novo Nordisk because of severe problems such as gastroparesis — also called stomach paralysis — and intestinal blockages. Similar drugs, such as Eli Lilly’s Mounjaro, are also named in lawsuits. 

“People are alleging that Novo Nordisk and Eli Lilly failed to properly warn patients and their doctors about certain Ozempic side effects and risks of the drugs,” Jonathan Sedgh, an attorney handling Ozempic lawsuits at Morgan & Morgan, told Drugwatch. “We’re alleging that the Defendants knew or should have known that these drugs could cause what’s called gastroparesis, ileus and intestinal blockages, and they failed to properly warn the American population about it.”

As the popularity of these drugs continues to grow, Sedgh expects thousands of people may be affected. Ultimately, it’s too early to tell, but the litigation may grow into tens of thousands of cases, he added.

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