When Robin Langois, 58, was prescribed the weight-loss drug Wegovy last year, she couldn’t afford the high price because her insurance didn’t cover it.
But she later discovered on TikTok that people could get their hands on what appeared to be the drug’s active ingredient, semaglutide, at drugstores for a fraction of the price.
Langois, of Tucson, Arizona, said she was initially hesitant, for safety reasons, but eventually found a telehealth provider to write her a prescription.
“I’m not 100% sure that’s what I’m getting,” Langois said. She noted, however, that she experienced feelings of fullness and weight loss, as well as nausea, a common side effect of the drug. “It works as it should,” she said.
Whether due to cost or ongoing shortages, people are looking for alternatives to branded drugs Ozempic and Wegovy, both of which contain the active ingredient semaglutide.
Some people, like Langois, turn to pharmacies for hard-to-get weight-loss drugs.
Novo Nordisk, the sole maker of Ozempic and Wegovy and the patent holder of semaglutide, said in a statement that it does not supply the ingredient to those pharmacies, leading some experts to wonder where the pharmacies got their hands on it. supply the drug – and whether it is semaglutide. at all.
“That’s the million dollar question,” said Dr. Fatima Cody, an obesity physician at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, who is an advisor to Novo Nordisk.
What are master pharmacies?
According to the Food and Drug Administration, compounding pharmacies mix and modify drug ingredients to create medications tailored to specific patient needs.
Compound drugs are usually created from the active ingredients of drugs. In the case of Ozempic and Wegovy, it’s semaglutide.
But compound drugs — though they contain FDA-approved ingredients — aren’t themselves FDA-approved, meaning they aren’t regulated, monitored, or tested by the agency, Benjamin said. Jolley, pharmacist and owner of Jolley’s Compounding Pharmacy in Salt Lake City.
Hospitals sometimes use a compound drug when a commercially available option isn’t ideal, according to the FDA. They may reduce the dosage of painkillers to prevent certain side effects, for example, or remove preservatives or dyes that may cause an allergic reaction.
The FDA will also grant exemptions allowing compounding pharmacists to make certain drugs in the event of a shortage, said agency spokesman Jeremy Kahn.
Do master pharmacies offer real semaglutide? Is it safe?
Dr. Chris McGowan, who runs a weight loss clinic in Cary, North Carolina, has noticed that the compound versions of Wegovy and Ozempic are growing in popularity.
“What I hear from patients is, ‘Oh, hey, I heard about this compound semaglutide. Can I try this? “, He said.
Mary Morgan Mills, 32, of Raleigh, North Carolina, came to McGowan after taking what she was told was a version made with semaglutide for about a year.
The weekly injection, which she received at a wellness centre, made her nauseous and she only lost about 15 pounds while taking it.
“I felt cheated,” she said, adding that she still had “bottles of it in my fridge.”
“I’ve always wanted to go get it tested to see what it actually is, but I don’t know the process,” Mills said.
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McGowan said compounding pharmacies, in many cases, aren’t fully transparent about how they source the drug.
Jolley, which doesn’t offer semaglutide, said it’s possible that pharmacists preparing drugs might give people semaglutide sodium, a cheaper, modified version of the compound that’s only for research. Semaglutide sodium, however, is not FDA approved, he said, which would make the product illegal to sell.
Compounding pharmacists could also buy large doses of semaglutide from wholesalers and then separate them into smaller doses or mix them with other drug ingredients, he said.
Matt Buderer, a pharmacist and owner of the Buderer Drug Company Compounding Pharmacy in Ohio, said this would essentially dilute the drug, which he says doesn’t make sense because it would make the drug less effective.
If what compounding pharmacies are offering as semaglutide isn’t actually the drug, that’s ultimately a safety issue because the ingredients they use may not be carefully evaluated by the FDA, McGowan said.
“What I tell patients is to be very careful when considering any form of compound semaglutide or compound tirzepatide, which is another drug currently offered in a compound form,” he said. (Tirzepatide is a diabetes drug made by Eli Lilly that also has weight loss effects.)
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