Fake diabetes medicines: how did fake Ozempic syringes arrive in Germany?

On Thursday evening, the Freiburg regional council published a brief report: several counterfeit packages of the diabetes drug Ozempic could be in circulation in Germany. The office warned of a significant health risk and released photos of fake highlighter-sized pens with which the drug is injected.

It is still unclear whether these are isolated cases, what the counterfeit syringes contain and whether anyone has already taken them. The Lörrach public prosecutor’s office is investigating, with the help of the police, property has been confiscated and is currently being analyzed, the regional council wrote on Friday. This is apparently not a local problem: there are indications that the corresponding supply chain also affects other states.

What makes this case so special are several aspects: Normally in Germany there are only problems with fakes. medicinewhen someone orders something from obscure websites. It is extremely rare for such a counterfeit to be “distributed”, as the Federal Institute for Medicines and Medical Devices writes, i.e. in the legal retail chain, to wholesalers or to pharmacies. It is still unclear exactly where the products were detected as counterfeit.

However, when asked by ZEIT ONLINE, manufacturer Novo Nordisk wrote that there was no evidence that patients had purchased counterfeit products in a pharmacy. Second point: Ozempic is certainly the most publicized drug in the world at the moment. Criminals try to take advantage of this. Ozempic is actually a diabetes medication; the active ingredient semaglutide is now also approved for the treatment of obesity in a second preparation called Wegovy. What creates the hype: Both are considered weight loss injections. Because semaglutide suppresses the appetite.

On social media, people with weight problems share how they finally managed to lose weight. In the USA, celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Elon Musk boast of having lost weight with Ozempic. Other people even say that the drug suddenly made them no longer want cigarettes or alcohol. Danish manufacturer Novo Nordisk makes so much money from Ozempic and Wegovy that even the Danish gross domestic product is growing above average.

We still don’t know how Counterfeits were able to enter the legal retail chain in Germany. This is not trivial. In this country, medicines are protected, among other things, by the securPharm system, in which each package has its own number, which the manufacturer has already printed and stored in a database.

When a pack passes the counter of a pharmacy, an automatic comparison is carried out to see if the serial number exists and, if so, if the corresponding pack has already been sold. If the serial number does not exist or has already been scanned elsewhere, the system will trigger an alarm. This makes it difficult for counterfeit medicines to be put into circulation. Additionally: There is only one manufacturer of Ozempic. How can a German wholesaler accidentally order from a counterfeiter? Possible explanations can be found abroad.

Apparently, criminals around the world are trying to exploit the hype around Ozempic. In June this year, manufacturer Novo Nordisk warned of possible counterfeits after a counterfeit pen containing the active ingredient insulin glargine instead of semaglutide appeared in a pharmacy in the United States. Insulin glargine is also injected in a pen that looks like Ozempic. Counterfeiters likely slapped a Novo Nordisk label on another, cheaper diabetes medication and sold it at a high price.

According to a recent report from CBS News, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) investigated this and other incidents and issued a warning. Because Ozempic is rare and expensive due to high demand, some wholesalers in the United States apparently lured pharmacies with particularly cheap offers and then sold counterfeit products, diverted them illegally from abroad or n ‘have simply delivered nothing. Some used publicly available information from licensed Internet wholesalers to pose as employees of the companies – and thus sold counterfeit products from supposedly safe sources.

Since Ozempic requires a prescription in Germany and only people with type 2 diabetes receive a prescription, the current warning about counterfeits mainly concerns them. Counterfeit products are easy to recognize, as the photos from Friborg show. The manufacturer Novo Nordisk reassures: “Overall, we currently believe that the risk to patients of receiving a counterfeit Ozempic pen in a pharmacy in Germany is very low,” the company writes. If patients suspect their syringes are counterfeit, they should take them to a pharmacy.

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