Wash. sees major rise in calls about Ozempic, Wegovy overdoses

Feb 5, 2024, 2:47 PM | Updated: 3:08 pm


Ozempic manufactured by Novo Nordisk packaging is seen in this illustration photo taken in a pharmacy in Krakow, Poland on December 7, 2023. (Photo: Jakub Porzycki/Getty Images)

(Photo: Jakub Porzycki/Getty Images)

The number of calls to the Washington Poison Center is up dramatically because people think they may have overdosed on the popular weight loss drugs Ozempic and Wegovy.

“We’ve seen about a 500% increase,” Dr. Sasha Kaiser, associate medical director at the Washington Poison Center, said. “There was a study that came out looking at it from all of the poison centers in the U.S. They looked from 2018 to now, but they had about 3,000 total calls from 2019 onwards.”

As UC Davis Health explained in a 2023 article, Ozempic and Wegovy are made by the same company and both contain the same active ingredient, semaglutide.

Wegovy is a once-weekly injection approved by the FDA in 2021 and contains higher doses of semaglutide and is designed for weight loss. It’s the first drug approved for this purpose since 2014. Ozempic has lower doses of the ingredient and was developed specifically for type 2 diabetes patients.

Also, Wegovy is often not covered by insurance, whereas Ozempic is.

More on ozempic: FDA warns consumers not to use off-brand versions of Ozempic, Wegovy

Ozempic works by mimicking a naturally occurring hormone, according to UC Davis Health. As those hormone levels rise, the molecules go to your brain, telling it you’re full. It also slows digestion by increasing the time it takes for food to leave the body.

The FDA approved Ozempic for weight loss in December 2017.

The problem poison centers are seeing

What poison centers have witnessed is people misunderstanding the directions and taking the injectable pen daily instead of weekly.

“For people, it can be really easy to figure out what your dose is,” Kaiser said. “But when you get it from other places like compounding pharmacies, sometimes they come in a vial that you have to draw.”

What she means is that instead of using one pen to inject weekly, patients who use a compounding pharmacy have to sometimes mix the medication themselves and then draw (the medication).

“And so it’s really easy to accidentally do like a 10-fold or 20-fold error on this,” Kaiser said. “Normally, with this medication, you can have nausea, vomiting, abdominal discomfort or pain that can occur with just kind of therapeutic use.”

Many of those same features that patients experience when taking the drug normally can increase when you overdose.

“When you accidentally take too much … you can see the (side effects), but more prominently,” Kaiser said. “It can be a lot more severe.”

When that happens, the Washington Poison Center gets called.

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“When somebody is just really having a lot of nausea and vomiting, and they read or look at the bottle and realize, ‘Oh my gosh, I’ve taken 10 times what I was supposed to,’ or ‘Oh my gosh, it said I was supposed to take it once a week and instead, I’ve been taking it every day,'” Kaiser added.

According to the drug maker, the medication can take a week to leave the body, so the side effects can linger.

“Some patients end up in the (emergency room), but so far, no one has died from taking too much of a weight loss and diabetes drug,” Kaiser stated.

What happens if you overdose

Mild symptoms range from nausea and diarrhea to stomach pain and dehydration. Serious symptoms can be irreversible kidney damage, pancreatitis, cholecystitis, gastroparesis and hypoglycemia.

To prevent a double dose, users should read the directions before taking their first dose. Users should always ask questions and watch videos or ask the medical assistant to aid in the first injection if, necessary. For those who happen to double dose, call the doctor or the Washington Poison Control at (800) 222-1222. For those who have symptoms, visit the emergency room immediately.

You can read more of Micki Gamez’s stories here. Follow Micki on X, formerly known as Twitter, or email her here.

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