Urgent health warnings have been issued after numerous instances emerged of popular weight-loss drugs being sold illegally on Facebook.
Brands such as Ozempic, Wegovy and Saxenda are being flogged without a prescription on the social media platform to people who are desperate to lose weight.
The appetite-suppressant injections have gained notoriety recently, particularly with middle-aged men, after high-profile personalities such as Elon Musk and Jeremy Clarkson reported slimming down after taking them.
Semaglutide, which is commonly marketed under the brand names Ozempic and Wegovy and liraglutide, often sold as Saxenda, are anti-diabetic medications used for the treatment of type 2 diabetes.
They help patients lose weight by tricking the body into thinking a hormone called glucagon-like peptide – that’s produced after eating food – is being released, thereby resulting in a loss of appetite.
READ MORE: Type 2 diabetes: New injection launched in UK
Liraglutide is available on the NHS but will only be prescribed to patients who have a body mass index score of 35 or more (32.5 or more for people of south Asian, Chinese, black African or African-Caribbean origin); have non-diabetic hyperglycaemia (high blood sugar); and are at high risk of heart problems such as heart attacks and strokes.
The National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends semaglutide for adults who have at least one weight-related comorbidity and a minimum BMI score of 35. Ozempic is only approved for the management of diabetes but can be prescribed off-label to aid weight loss.
However, The i has reported mutliple posts from Facebook users illegally offering the drugs for sale to members of the public without a prescription.
Meta, Facebook’s parent company, states in its regulated good policy that users are prohibited from posting content about weight loss that contains a miracle claim and attempts to buy, sell, trade, donate or gift weight loss products.
Sold privately, a four-pack of semaglutide injections can cost up to £179.99, but black market sellers are undercutting online pharmacy websites licensed to sell the drugs with prices as low as £75.
Dr Steve Taylor, GP spokesperson at Doctors’ Association UK, said: “There is clearly a lot of potential for these medications. However, purchasing medication without a prescription is illegal and can be dangerous. Without a doctor’s supervision, it is difficult to ensure the medication’s safety, effectiveness, and proper usage. Additionally, the medication may interact negatively with other drugs or health conditions, leading to harmful side effects or complications.
“It’s also possible that someone may have another underlying condition leading to weight gain that needs investigation. I would advise all people not to take medication which has not been prescribed for them, and to seek the advice of a doctor or health professional.”
A spokesperson for Meta said: “We don’t allow the sale of pharmaceutical drugs on Facebook and have removed the violating group brought to our attention. Content relating to weight loss products and potentially dangerous cosmetic procedures is also restricted for under-18s.
“We’re constantly working to get better at detection and we urge people to report anything they think doesn’t belong on our platform, so we can review it and take action.”
A spokesperson for Novo Nordisk, the manufacturer of Wegovy and Ozempic, said it was “in dialogue” with industry partners, marketplaces and social media platforms on this issue.
They said: “Wegovy, Saxenda and Ozempic are prescription-only medicines and therefore require a registered healthcare professional to prescribe the medicine.
“Ozempic is not indicated for use in weight management, hence any such prescribing of Ozempic in this respect is considered to be off-license and outside the medicine’s recommended label. Novo Nordisk does not support off-label prescribing.”