Saturday, June 22

Doctors weigh in on weight loss drug craze amid lawsuits against drug companies

Thousands of Americans say weight loss drugs such as Ozempic and Mounjaro have helped them lose weight fast, but a pending lawsuit alleges they can cause serious health issues.

“This has literally been the only thing that has worked for me,” Mariel Rosenwasser in West Palm Beach told WPTV.

It’s a trend that Rosenwasser said changed her life.

“I have a hormonal disorder called PCOS for short,” Rosenwasser said. “My body overproduces insulin to break down glucose in the body and so, my body doesn’t function, I guess, like a normal person’s body. So, this drug has really helped me personally because it makes my body normal.”

She’s talking about Mounjaro, which is an antidiabetic medication used to treat Type 2 diabetes and obesity.

Rosenwasser told WPTV she was also previously prescribed a similar drug called Ozempic, commonly known as a quick fix for weight loss.

“The celebrity stuff, the people who have disordered eating and aren’t getting it through a notable health care provider like they’re going to a med spa, I feel like that has put so much negative publicity in the news,” Rosenwasser said.

“People are struggling, they are looking for a way to lose weight,” Dr. Kanwal Bawa, who owns a med spa in Boca Raton, said.

Bawa tells WPTV she’s been prescribing Ozempic for three years.

“I saw that it was working for people and then before I started offering it to my patients, I tried it on myself. I had gained weight due to cancer treatment,” Bawa said. “It wasn’t easy to exercise. I was in a lot of pain, so when I took it myself and lost a considerable amount of weight with really no side effects, I felt that I needed to bring this to my patients.”

However, according to a 2023 lawsuit filed by law firm Morgan and Morgan, some patients are experiencing serious side effects.

“We’ve retained over 11,000 cases where people have claimed that they’ve taken these drugs and have had either persistent vomiting for over a month or have been diagnosed with gastroparesis,” Jonathan Sedgh, an attorney with Morgan and Morgan, said.

Gastroparesis is a condition that causes delays in stomach emptying and in some cases can be severe, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

Because of this, Morgan and Morgan filed their suit last year against the makers of Ozempic and the makers of Mounjaro, asking for a jury trial.

The lawsuit alleges the “defendants’ drugs delay gastric emptying.”

“There really was a failure to warn consumers about that despite extensive marketing and publicity,” Nina Spizer, another attorney with Morgan and Morgan, said.

In a statement sent to WPTV, the maker of Ozempic, Novo Nordisk, said the following:

“GLP-1 has been used to treat type 2 diabetes (T2D) for more than 18 years, and for treatment of obesity for 8 years, including Novo Nordisk GLP-1 products such as semaglutide and liraglutide that have been on the market for more than 13 years. Semaglutide has been extensively examined in robust clinical development programs, large real world evidence studies and has cumulatively over 9.5 million patient years of exposure. Gastroparesis is a clinical syndrome characterized by delayed gastric emptying in the absence of mechanical obstruction of the stomach. While diabetes is a well-known risk factor, there are other risk factors that may increase the risk of gastroparesis such as overweight/obesity, gender (female), virus infection and nervous systems disease (Parkinson’s disease or multiple sclerosis). Gastrointestinal (GI) events are well-known side effects of the GLP-1 class. For semaglutide, the majority of GI side effects are mild to moderate in severity and of short duration. GLP-1’s are known to cause a delay in gastric emptying, as noted in the label of each of our GLP-1 RA medications. Symptoms of delayed gastric emptying, nausea and vomiting are listed as side effects. Patient safety is of utmost importance to Novo Nordisk. We recommend patients take these medications for their approved indications and under the supervision of a healthcare professional. We are continuously monitoring the safety profile of our products and collaborate closely with authorities to ensure patient safety, including adequate information on gastrointestinal side effects in the label.”

Eli Lilly, the makers of Mounjaro, also sent WPTV a statement saying the following:

“Patient safety is Lilly’s top priority, and we actively engage in monitoring, evaluating, and reporting safety information for all our medicines. Our FDA-approved label [uspl.lilly.com] clearly warns that Mounjaro may be associated with gastrointestinal adverse reactions, sometimes severe. These risks were communicated to and widely known by healthcare providers. We are vigorously defending against these claims.”

Now, a fairly new drug called Zepbound is on the market after it was approved by the FDA in November. It contains some of the same ingredients as Mounjaro, according to the FDA, and is made by the same company, Eli Lilly.

According to an FDA press release, “Zepbound causes thyroid C-cell tumors in rats.”

In a statement to WPTV, the FDA said, “It is not known if these drugs will cause C-cell thyroid tumors or medullary thyroid cancer in people.”

Eli Lilly sent WPTV the following statement regarding the concerns:

“It is unknown whether Zepbound causes thyroid C-cell tumors, including medullary thyroid carcinoma (MTC), in humans. As a reminder, Zepbound’s label [uspl.lilly.com] contains a boxed warning regarding potential risk of thyroid C-cell tumors and is contraindicated in patients with a personal or family history of MTC or in patients with multiple endocrine neoplasia syndrome type 2. If someone is experiencing any side effects while taking any Lilly medication we encourage them to speak with their healthcare provider.”

“All drugs have their side effects,” Dr. Jason Radecke, a bariatric surgeon with HCA Florida Lawnwood Hospital in Fort Pierce, said.

Radecke said he advises potential patients to steer clear of these drugs if thyroid cancer runs in their family, which is also included as a boxed warning on the drugs’ labels.

“I would say it’s a risk versus benefits situation. I think pharmacology is a tricky business,” Radecke said. “I think if you open up any label on any drug, you could pick Tylenol, Aspirin, things we’ve taken for years. Well if you open up to the side effect pamphlet, there’s a litany of items listed.”

Radecke advises people to do their research when considering any new medication.

“If I had like 10 pounds to lose, I don’t think it’s worth any type of risk, you know,” Rosenwasser said. “If I can do it another way, and I don’t need to worry about it, but for the people that can’t do it that way, like there is something standing in the way and this drug fixes that, I see it as totally different.”

According to Spizer and Sedgh, the Morgan and Morgan lawsuit has now been lumped together with several other similar suits around the country, which is called multidistrict litigation.

The cases have not yet gone to trial.

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