Poison control centers across the United States have seen a huge spike in calls related to accidental overdoses and misuse of popular injected weight loss medications like Ozempic, Wegovy, and Mounjaro over the past year.
Overdoses Lead to 1500% Increase in Calls
According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC), poisoning calls related to drugs like semaglutide (Wegovy and Ozempic) and tirzepatide (Mounjaro) have jumped over 1500% over the last year.
In 2022, poison control centers received over 18,000 calls related to injectable diabetes medications, up from just over 1,000 in 2021. While some calls are related to prescribed use, the vast majority appear to be due to people using them in higher doses or frequencies than prescribed in order to lose weight.
This dramatic increase highlights growing concern over the misuse and abuse of medications originally intended to treat diabetes that have shown significant weight loss side effects.
Accidental Overdoses Can Lead to Severe Nausea and Vomiting
Many reports to poison control centers describe people accidentally injecting an entire 1-2 mg pen of Ozempic at once, rather than the prescribed 0.25-1mg dose. This can lead to severe nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, dizziness, and racing heartbeat.
While most patients recover after these accidental overdoses, the symptoms can be extremely unpleasant. There is also concern that in higher doses these drugs could potentially lead to severe dehydration, kidney dysfunction, or even diabetic ketoacidosis.
Demand and Interest in Weight Loss Uses Fueling Rise
The recent popularity of semaglutide and similar drugs for weight loss purposes has led more primary care doctors to prescribe them “off-label” for that use. High profile celebrity endorsements and sensational before-and-after pictures on social media have also stoked interest.
With the obesity rate rising in America and few new weight loss options coming to market, demand has soared for diabetes medications that can also enable substantial weight loss of 15-25 pounds on average.
Online posts in weight loss focused forums indicate that some people are intentionally taking 2-3 times the recommended doses hoping to amplify results. This kind of unauthorized use significantly increases health risks.
Calls Coming from All Age Groups and Genders
While middle-aged women may be the demographic most interested weight loss treatments, calls into poison control centers have come from men and women of all ages, including teenagers.
This indicates that prescribed use for diabetes along with misuse for weight loss is occurring across a wide spectrum. College students and even occasional recreational drug users may also be experimenting with injectable semaglutide.
Easy access and a perception that prescribed drugs are “safe” is fueling this casual off-label use.
Black Market Sales Emerging
With prescriptions requiring doctor approval which can have long wait times, an underground market for weight loss injections has emerged.
Unregulated manufacturers have started producing generic formulations to meet surging demand. However, the authenticity and purity of these products is unknown and they could pose additional dangers.
Authorities have also seen counterfeit versions of brand name drugs like Ozempic being sold illegally. These could potentially be diluted, unsafe substitutes.
Looking Ahead: Tighter Regulations or Prescription Guidelines?
In response to the escalating overdoses and signs of misuse, policymakers and medical experts expect changes around how widely weight-loss medications featuring semaglutide are prescribed in 2023.
Proposals include adding stronger FDA warning labels about possible abuse, training doctors to better screen patients, or even making the drugs controlled substances that require strict accounting around their use.
Pharmaceutical manufacturers like Novo Nordisk may also face pressure to make their smart pen injection devices tamper-proof to prevent users from overrides. They are already facing lawsuits over insufficient warnings about dosage and side effects.
With obesity impacting over 40% of American adults, the quest for safe and effective weight loss treatments won’t dissipate. But hopefully the medical establishment can curb the current spike in overdoses through responsible prescribing practices and patient education.
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