ORLANDO, Fla. — Some are hailing them as miracle weight loss drugs, even though they started out as a treatment for diabetes. Now that the FDA has approved two GLP-1 drugs specifically for weight loss, more people are seeking out the medication, and sometimes misusing it.
At least 3,000 people had to call poison control just last year for problems with semaglutide injections. Investigative Reporter Karla Ray explored the second market for the medications, and why improper dosing and a lack of oversight could be putting people at risk.
Lynne Matlack shared photos with 9 Investigates that she admits she never wanted taken; at one point, she weighed more than 350 pounds, and had a family history of death from type two diabetes.
But then, a new doctor, introduced her to a new medication.
“She specifically said to me, this is going to be very good for you in terms of your blood sugar control and your diabetes, and you might lose a few pounds. That’s how she phrased it to me,” Matlack said.
A few pounds turned into more than 80 on Mounjaro, a brand of GLP-1 medication used to manage diabetes. The active ingredient, Tirzepatide, works to regulate blood sugar, slows the emptying of the digestive tract, and inhibits the receptors in your brain that produce cravings.
The changes were enough to kickstart Matlack’s pancreas into working properly; her diabetes is now considered ‘in remission.’
“I get choked up about it now,” Matlack said. “I don’t want what happened to my family to happen to me, and I had struggled for years to try to figure this out.”
Though weight loss was just a happy side effect of her diabetes treatment, many others are seeking GLP-1 medications specifically for weight loss, including Tirzepatide, which is FDA approved for weight loss under the brand name Zepbound, and Semaglutide, the active ingredient in the weight loss drug Wegovy, most known for its use in diabetes med Ozempic.
“In terms of medical weight loss, up until the last few years, we didn’t really have much in our arsenal to fight obesity, other than surgery,” Bariatric Surgeon Dr. Muhammad Ghanem said.
Dr. Ghanem calls the medications a game changer, but there is some concern about how they’re being used. The makers of Ozempic announced lawsuits last year against six med spas and medical weight loss centers over the sale of what they call counterfeit and compounded Semaglutide products, and there are countless others offering similar compounds, shipping the medication right to your door.
“Does it concern you that these medications are so widely available in a market that’s not necessarily in a medical setting?” Karla Ray asked Dr. Ghanem.
“Absolutely, it does, yes. Those medications are not completely benign, and while they might be a breakthrough in a sense, they still have side effects,” Dr. Ghanem said.
Unlike the pre-measured pens patients like Matlack are prescribed, compounded GLP-1s are measured out by users at home with a syringe, creating more room for error.
“They’re allowed to make a patented drug so long as there is a shortage of that drug, and that’s what happened in this case,” Terry Turner of Drugwatch.com said. “There has been a shortage, and you’ve got a lot of compound pharmacies making this stuff.”
Terry Turner tracks GLP-1 issues for Drugwatch.com, and points to poison control reports for Semaglutide overdoses jumping by 1500% as evidence that there needs to be more oversight.
“It’s huge, I mean, it’s really frightening to see a 15-fold increase over 2019,” Turner said.
The FDA warned the public last year against taking compounded versions of these medications if the prescription forms were available, saying it had received adverse event reports after people used the compounded versions of the drug.
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