Ozempic has boomed in the last couple of years as THE way to watch your weight go down. The Danish pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk made Ozempic to help diabetes patients manage blood sugar levels and regulate insulin, for which the FDA gave it approval in 2017. 

Ozempic’s active ingredient, semaglutide, works with the pancreas to mimic a particular hormone that tells your brain that you feel full. Researchers in the UK (where the obesity rate is about 26%) saw how this could make for an effective anti-obesity drug–perhaps something less clear to its makers in Denmark, where the obesity rate is only 18%, but which would be very appealing many of us in America, where the obesity rate is quite a bit oversized, at over 40%.

Despite all the success of these weight loss drugs, not all consumers have had good experiences. Issues with side effects have led to class action lawsuits.

Wegovy Goes to court

Novo Nordisk changed the dosage a bit and rebranded Ozempic as Wegovy, which was approved to treat obesity by the FDA in 2021. The drug has become so popular that widespread shortages in the US were reported in 2023 and into 2024. But as more people started to take the drug, some less than desirable side effects started to emerge, namely gastroparesis.

While constipation and nausea are fairly common when patients start out on the injection program, gastroparesis is something way worse. Yes, Ozempic is supposed to slow down digestion, but not too much–something learned by Jaclyn Bjorklund, who had been taking Ozempic for a year to help her with her type 2 diabetes before switching to a similar drug known as Mounjaro, made by Eli Lilly.

Her pain and vomiting got so bad that she not only ended up in the hospital, but she also ended up losing some of her teeth. Her case, brought against both Novo Nordisk and Eli Lilly in August 2023, started a surge of further lawsuits alleging that the companies did not adequately warn about the risks of gastroparesis.

In February 2024, 55 cases were consolidated into a federal multidistrict litigation (MDL) case in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, but the firm representing the plaintiffs believes that the number of cases could increase to 10,000. As of April, the number of cases alleging gastroparesis or other, similar gastro-intestinal complications has reached 77. 

Novo Fights Back

For their part, the drug makers contend that “the asserted risks were disclosed on the label and well-known in the medical literature.” But more than that, they’ve also opened their own lawsuits–against businesses that they allege are selling fake or altered versions of Ozempic or Wegovy, which they are then passing off as the real deal. In February 2024, Novo Nordisk reached the first settlement of this sort, with a Florida medical spa and weight loss clinic for allegedly passing off such fakes to their customers. The extent to which other pharmacies or clinics are engaged in this practice could also have consequences for the MDL case or a potential, future class action. Specifically, plaintiffs will have to prove that they were, in fact, using “real” Ozempic or Wegovy. 

Remember Fen-Phen? 

If such a class action lawsuit were to emerge, it could be costly–but it wouldn’t be the first weight loss drug company to find itself in court. In 1997, weight loss drug Fen-Phen (fenfluramine-phentermine), which had been taken by some 6 million Americans, was pulled from shelves after a Mayo Clinic Report linked the drug to heart valve disease. 

The drug also worked by tricking the brain, albeit by a much different mechanism, into thinking you were full. The manufacturer, American Home Products, would eventually settle a class action in the year 2000 for $3.75 billion. This amount does not include the billions that they paid out to settle cases that were not part of the class action. Indeed, cases are still being filed to this day. 

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