Police in England are performing raids and making arrests in a crackdown on illegal sales of a drug often used for weight loss.
Ozempic is one of a group of “semaglutide” medicines that have taken social media by storm over the last year.
With demand high and supplies low, regulators believe liquid containing the ingredient is now being sold on the black market in the U.K.
Manufactured by Novo Nordisk, Ozempic is actually intended to help people with Type 2 diabetes look after their blood sugar levels.
But it’s also being used “off-label” to help people lose weight, with celebrities like Elon Musk saying the injectable has helped them shed pounds.
In the U.K., semaglutides like Ozempic are only legally available with a prescription. But regulators told the BBC’s Newsbeat service that a “small scale” black market for the medicines is emerging.
The outlet previously discovered semaglutides for sale on social media and in cosmetics outlets.
This week, police arrested a man suspected of selling the drug illegally online after raiding a house in the north of England. Officers found vials of a liquid they believe to contain the ingredient.
Andy Morling, deputy director of criminal enforcement at the country’s Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency, says his team is planning more raids and trying to remove online adverts for semaglutides.
In the U.K., it is illegal to advertise prescription-only drugs to the general public.
Common side effects of the drugs can include nausea, diarrhea, stomach pain and nausea. But they may also cause serious side effects like kidney, gallbladder, pancreas and vision problems.
It’s possible semaglutides can cause thyroid tumors, including cancer, but this has only been observed in rodent studies.
Morling told BBC Newsbeat: “The very best that could happen to you is you lose your money in a scam… And the worst that could happen is you end up hospitalized.”
Global demand for Ozempic has exceeded supply for months, with the U.K. expecting shortages to last until at least next year.
Back in July, campaigners warned people with diabetes were missing out on the drug as doctors prescribed it “off-label” for weight loss.
But other semaglutides are expected to be used more widely in the country as slimming aids.
In September, Novo Nordisk launched semaglutide Wegovy in the U.K. Indicated for weight loss, the country’s government has announced a £40 million ($51 million) fund to improve access to the drug.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said at the time that obesity “puts huge pressure” on the country’s public health system, the National Health Service.
“Using the latest drugs to support people to lose weight will be a game-changer by helping to tackle dangerous obesity-related health conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes and cancer,” he said, adding that Wegovy and similar drugs could reduce pressure on hospitals, help people live longer and healthier lives, and help cut waiting lists for healthcare.
NHS Medical Director Steve Powis said that the drugs could help tackle obesity, high rates of which “can have devastating consequences for the nation’s health” and put “significant pressure” on healthcare services.