Australia’s peak drug regulator has confirmed it is probing social media platforms and influencers over statements made about a diabetic drug as an alternative weight loss treatment, when there is a critical global shortage.
Dozens of social media accounts on platforms like TikTok and Instagram have boasted of the body transformations through the use of Ozempic, an antidiabetic medication used to improve blood sugar levels and lower the risk of heart attacks and strokes in adults with type 2 diabetes.
Some videos explain how much weight they have lost after weeks of using the drug, which is a brand of the medicine semaglutide.
But the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) in November said Ozempic may not be available across the country until the end of March 2023 due to an unprecedented increase in demand.
In a release, they said it was caused by doctors prescribing the drug “off label” for weight loss.
“The TGA does not have the power to regulate the clinical decisions of health professionals and is unable to prevent doctors from using their clinical judgement to prescribe Ozempic for
other health conditions,” the TGA release states.
In a statement to NCA NewsWire, a TGA spokeswoman confirmed they were investigating reports of alleged unlawful advertising of Ozempic.
“The TGA has regular discussions with digital platforms and social media sites, including to advise them on the rules for advertising therapeutic goods, including to advise them on the rules for advertising therapeutic goods and to help enhance their monitoring systems, which blocks users from posting unlawful content including for Ozempic,” their statement reads.
The organisation said they were working with digital platforms including TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, eBay, Amazon and Gumtree among others but could not confirm which specific accounts they were examining.
“Advertising of prescription medicines directly to the public, including through social media is illegal in Australia and fines and civil and criminal penalties can apply,” the TGA spokeswoman said.
“Ozempic is a prescription only medicine and cannot be advertised to the public.
“This is because prescription medicines are higher risk medicines and should only be determined as an appropriate treatment option in consultation with a professionally trained medical practitioner and not on the basis of consumer advertising.”
NCA NewsWire is not suggesting any of the social media accounts used in this article have breached Australian law.
While doctors can prescribe the drug off-label for weight loss, Ozempic’s own website reiterates it it not a weight loss drug.
Possible side effects from its use can include kidney problems, inflammation of the pancreas, changes in vision, severe allergic reactions and even the possible development of thyroid tumours, including cancer.
“The most common side effects of Ozempic may include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach (abdominal) pain, and constipation,” the product’s warning page states.
The Australian shortage of the drug is despite the TGA and Ozempic’s manufacturer Novo Nordisk issuing a joint statement in mid-2022 for doctors to prescribe the drug for patients with type 2 diabetes as a priority.