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May 29, 2024

Calls to Poison Centers Skyrocket Due to Misuse of Weight Loss Drugs

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Dec 23, 2023

Poison control centers across the United States have seen a dramatic surge in calls related to accidental overdoses and adverse side effects from prescription weight loss medications in 2022 and 2023. Key drugs driving this increase include semaglutide (under brand names like Ozempic and Wegovy) and liraglutide (Saxenda).

Over 1,500% Increase in Calls About Semaglutide and Liraglutide

According to data from the American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC), poison control calls about semaglutide and liraglutide have jumped over 1,500% compared to 2021.

Year | # Calls About Semaglutide/Liraglutide
2021 | 132 
2022 | 2,033 (up 1,440%)
2023* | Over 2,100 (up 1,500%+)

* Projected based on call volume in first 9 months of year

This dramatic rise comes as the drugs have surged in popularity for weight loss among both patients with obesity-related conditions like diabetes, as well as those without prescriptions using them off-label. However, semaglutide and liraglutide can cause severe adverse effects if misused, accidentally overdosed, or taken without medical supervision.

Side Effects Leading to Emergency Care

Uncontrolled use of semaglutide drugs like Ozempic and Wegovy poses risks of dangerous side effects requiring emergency care:

  • Gastrointestinal problems – Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea that can lead to dehydration
  • Gallbladder issues – Inflammation, gallstones, cholecystitis
  • Kidney dysfunction – Can progress to acute kidney failure
  • Pancreatitis – Severe inflammation of the pancreas
  • Heart rhythm abnormalities – Arrhythmias, palpitations, fast heart rate

In addition, some patients have experienced severe stomach pain, electrolyte imbalances, changes in vision, severe headaches, and suicidal thoughts. These adverse events often require ambulance transport and emergency department treatment with IV fluids, anti-nausea medication, pain control, and monitoring of vital signs and lab results.

Banner Poison Center Cases Up Over 250%

Banner Poison and Drug Information Center in Arizona has seen calls spike this year:

  • 253 calls about semaglutide in 2022
  • Already 287 calls in 2023 as of early December
  • A 258% increase compared to 2021

The center has noticed increasing emergency room visits and ambulance runs to treat patients with very low blood pressure, kidney injury, severe vomiting/diarrhea, and electrolyte disturbances – all linked to semaglutide overdoses. Many cases involved people taking a friend’s or relative’s leftover Ozempic or Wegovy pens without understanding the risks.

Dangers of Off-Label Use for Weight Loss

While semaglutide and liraglutide are FDA-approved for chronic weight management in obese patients, their growing off-label use for weight loss is concerning toxicology experts. People are getting the drugs through telehealth services, foreign online pharmacies, or sharing with friends and family without comprehending the potential hazards.

Taking these injectable medications without medical oversight leaves patients vulnerable to overdosing, medication interactions, and delays in seeking care for severe side effects. It also increases risks to vulnerable groups like those with eating disorders or existing gastrointestinal conditions.

What Happens in an Overdose?

So what actually occurs inside the body during an overdose of semaglutide drugs like Ozempic or Wegovy?

These glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) receptor agonists overstimulate GLP-1 receptors found throughout the digestive system and brain. This slows digestion, suppresses appetite, and alters food preferences and cravings signals to the brain.

But in overdose, the excess stimulation of GLP-1 receptors causes severe nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, diarrhea, and other gastrointestinal effects. It can also affect heart rate, blood pressure, and fluid/electrolyte balance.

Kidney and pancreatic damage may also ensue through unknown mechanisms. Vision changes occur due to swelling around the optic nerve from fluid shifts.

Calls to Poison Control Expected to Keep Increasing

With semaglutide prescriptions projected to continue rising and no signs of slowing off-label use, poison control centers are bracing for call volumes to keep climbing in 2023.

The surge in patient harm from these medications presents challenges for poison control staffing and resources. It also shows the need for improved prescribing practices and patient education around these drugs.

Poison Centers Urge Medical Supervision

To mitigate risks from weight management drugs like Ozempic and Wegovy, poison control specialists emphasize the importance of medical supervision. These medications have risks even when taken as prescribed, so using them without oversight is hazardous.

The AAPCC strongly advises against taking someone else’s prescription, getting it without an evaluation from a licensed provider, or taking higher than prescribed doses. Instead, they recommend supervised lifestyle changes and FDA-approved weight loss medications only if medically appropriate.

By heeding poison centers’ guidance, patients can avoid becoming part of the soaring statistics of adverse outcomes from misusing drugs like semaglutide. While potentially effective for obesity when carefully monitored, their unintended consequences can be severe – even fatal. Poison control experts will likely remain vigilant as long as these agents are making headlines.

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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