Poison centers getting huge increase in calls about Ozempic, Wegovy

Semaglutide, a drug that is sold under brand names like Ozempic and Wegovy, has led to a huge increase in calls to poison centers nationwide.

It is an injectable medication that patients use for Type 2 diabetes and weight loss, but some have been using it incorrectly, leading to accidental poisonings.

“You really should just be following the dosing titration, increasing the dose as is recommended,” said James Leonard, director of clinical services at the Maryland Poison Center. “You’re more likely to reduce your side effects and be able to tolerate the drug and keep taking it.”

The poison center is located at the University of Maryland Baltimore and is an emergency hotline for people with questions about poisoning treatment.

It is staffed by pharmacists and nurses who are certified as specialists in poison information.

According to Leonard, one of the main issues with semaglutide is the fact that it’s supposed to be taken just once a week. That confuses some patients, as they instead end up taking it once a day or a couple times a week.

“Sometimes, they use their entire month’s worth of [the] drug in a very short period of time, and then they basically have given themselves a fourfold overdose,” Leonard said. “Quite a few of the calls we’ve heard about is people using their full month’s supply in four days or using a two-week supply in two days.”

Leonard encouraged patients to double-check the instructions and confirm with their pharmacist.

America’s Poison Centers — an organization that represents 55 poison centers nationwide and operates a national poison help line — has documented a steep increase in emergency calls related to the drug.

The centers had nearly 3,000 calls regarding semaglutide from January through November, marking a 1,500% increase since 2019, according to a report from CNN.

“I’m not shocked at all,” Leonard said. “Whenever new medications come to the market, if they’re really popular like these drugs are, we’re more likely to get more calls about them.”

Some patients have needed to be hospitalized for severe nausea, vomiting and stomach pain. Their cases seem to have been resolved after they were given intravenous fluids and medications to control nausea.

Nick Iannelli

Nick Iannelli can be heard covering developing and breaking news stories on WTOP.

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