Experts & authorities warn of health risks using Ozempic for weight loss

Concerns over Ozempic use for weight loss in South Africa raised by experts and authorities. file image

Concerns over Ozempic use for weight loss in South Africa raised by experts and authorities. file image

Published May 26, 2024


Cape Town - TikTok and social media is abuzz with users praising Ozempic for their significant weight loss and are coughing up between R1200 to R2500 a jab for the scheduled drug used to treat type 2 diabetes.

According to The Sports Institute of South Africa, one injection pen of Ozempic could cost between R1 200 and R1 500 which could last between one to eight weeks depending on the dose.

The South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) together with the National Department of Health are warning the public that any product not manufactured by Novo Nordisk claiming to contain semaglutide is likely to be fake or counterfeit and that with the influx use of the product, patients needing Ozmepic are at a loss as stock continues to run out.

A Tiktoker, of Cape Town, took to social media last month, sharing her Ozempic experience, stating she paid close to R3 000 for treatment and lost a few kilograms after her first intake.

“I have been been on Ozempic, I just had my first shot, it has been just over four weeks and 0.25mg dosage for four weeks and I am down five and a half kilograms since starting Ozempic and it is a complete win,” she said.

SAHPRA said they were aware of falsified Ozempic products currently being sold on the market and online.

SAHPRA added they were informed of advertisements regarding unauthorised Ozempic/semaglutide-containing products being disseminated through media platforms.

“The Regulator is warning the public to be wary of products claiming to be Ozempic (semaglutide) which are not approved by SAHPRA,” they said.

“Ozempic is a Schedule 4, prescription-only medicine, authorised by SAHPRA only for the treatment of type 2 diabetes mellitus in adults.

“Novo Nordisk South Africa, who is the Holder of Certificate of Registration (HCR) has confirmed a national shortage of Ozempic stock;

this resulted in limited access to treatment for diabetic patients.

“This may have created an opportunity for falsified/counterfeit products flooding the market. Currently, there are no generic versions of this medicine being lawfully manufactured. Therefore, any product not manufactured by Novo Nordisk claiming to contain semaglutide is likely to be fake.”

Foster Mohale of the National Health Department told Weekend Argus they are very concerned about the wider risks of people using the drug for weight loss. As the demand for semaglutide as a weight loss agent has increased there have been global shortages over the past two years.

Foster warned that in the public health sector, semaglutide has not yet been reviewed for inclusion on the national essential medicines list for any indications and is thus not currently procured.

Professor Elmarie Terblanche, Division of Sport Science, Department of Exercise, Sport and Lifestyle Medicine, Stellenbosch University said people were unaware of the health risk and physical effects the drug has when used for weight loss.

“There are always risks when using drugs for something other than what it was developed for,” she said. In the case of Ozempic, the risk is somewhat less, as the drug’s secondary purpose is weight loss (mainly through slowing down of gastric emptying and suppression of appetite), even though specifically for T2DM.

“On the other hand, it cannot be assumed that there will be no risks for non-diabetic persons, as the drug was developed for those with diabetes.

“{Overdose} may cause some of the known side-effects of Ozempic, namely inflammation of the pancreas, gallbladder disorders, kidney failure and a specific type of thyroid cancer.

“A further serious risk is the development of very low blood sugar levels (hypoglycemia), especially if the person also follows a restricted diet.”

Professor Eric Decloedt, Divisional Head & Associate Professor, Division of Clinical Pharmacology, Department of Medicine, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, agreed about health risks it poses psychologically.

“There are also signals of psychiatric symptoms: suicidal ideation, depression, anxiety.

“There are also concerns about thyroid cancer. You can also develop a severe allergic reaction.”

Weekend Argus