Media Coverage

The dark side of the weight-loss-drug craze: eating disorders, medication shortages, dangerous knockoffs

May 27, 2023
In this piece, Dr. Elizabeth Wassenaar shares insight with MarketWatch about the dangers of GLP-1 medications and their impact to the eating disorder community and especially adolescents. Dr. Wassenaar shared: “The adolescent mental health crisis is unprecedented,” said Wassenaar, with many teens suffering severe mood disorders, eating disorders, and suicidality, and teens struggling with depression may think, 'If I lose weight, I’ll feel better and people will like me. There’s this magic drug, and all I have to do is inject it.'” And if patients can start taking these drugs as early as 12 years of age, “We just don’t know what that’s going to do to them in 10 or 20 years,” she said, because there’s not enough long-term data.

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A national obsession with a new class of weight-loss drugs is turning dangerous, doctors and researchers say, as many patients are inappropriately prescribed Wegovy, Ozempic and similar medications and supply shortages generate a market for unauthorized, potentially risky copycat versions of these drugs. 

Social media buzz about the drugs has promoted the mistaken perception that the medications are appropriate for a broad swath of people who may want to shed a few pounds–with disastrous consequences for some patients, doctors say. Patients who previously recovered from eating disorders, for example, are coming in for treatment because they “have had their eating disorder reactivated by use of these medications,” said Dr. Elizabeth Wassenaar, a regional medical director at the Eating Recovery Center, which specializes in treating the disorders. Some patients have wound up in the hospital, she said, and in some cases the providers who prescribed the drugs were unaware of the patients’ eating-disorder history. “It’s a real warning to people who prescribe these medications that it’s not without risk,” she said.

Some doctors also question whether the safety of the drugs has been adequately studied in older adults, who may have an undesirable loss of lean muscle mass when taking the medications. That complicates an ongoing debate about whether Medicare should cover these drugs for weight loss.  

And patients of all types are put at risk, experts say, by the illegal production of knock-off versions of the medications. The Food and Drug Administration and several state pharmacy boards in recent weeks have warned that some compounding pharmacies are producing unauthorized versions of the drugs–which poses particular safety concerns for injectable drugs such as Wegovy, said David Margraf, a pharmaceutical research scientist with the Resilient Drug Supply Project at the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy. “It’s not just a victimless crime,” he said. “People can be severely injured.” 


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