Ozempic and other weight-loss drugs are having a moment but at some online stores doctors are not checking IDs before prescribing them


Ozempic is in all places. Billionaire tech boss Elon Musk takes a model of the load loss drug. Mannequin Julia Fox denies utilizing it. Commuters in New York’s Instances Sq. Station don’t see posters for Broadway reveals anymore. As a substitute, adverts for a “weekly shot to shed pounds” are plastered wall-to-wall. Sydney and Melbourne commuters are seeing the identical factor on bus shelters round their cities, on TV and social media, the place adverts dovetail with the stress to match influencers’ excellent physiques.

Australian start-ups see a goldmine on this world pattern: promoting a brand new technology of spectacularly standard injections that make folks really feel fuller on much less meals. A string of moneyed telehealth firms – backed by billionaires, a nationwide grocery chain and a nationwide well being insurer say they’re tackling an weight problems disaster that might price the financial system $87.7 billion inside 10 years. However they face intense criticism from GPs.

Juniper artwork of its weight loss ads, published to its Facebook page.

Juniper paintings of its weight reduction adverts, printed to its Fb web page.

Proponents say this new wave of medication is the primary to supply double-digit weight reduction with out crippling unwanted effects, and these web sites are making them extra accessible given rising difficulties seeing a health care provider throughout a looming weight problems disaster. However critics see the highly effective new medicines, that are solely accessible with a prescription, being entrusted to nascent start-ups that need to promote ever-growing portions to outlive.

This masthead tried to purchase weight reduction medicine on-line from 4 main Australian telehealth web sites and located their promise of comfort was true – to a fault. Some advocate weight reduction injections in simply minutes with out ever talking to a affected person face-to-face. Others despatched out highly effective treatment with scant verification of a affected person’s id. These practices have sparked warnings from the Medical Board of Australia that firms are falling wanting its pointers, and from consultants who worry customers are flocking to treatment with severe unwanted effects in pursuit of a stupendous physique.

Weight loss drugs obtained with minimal checks.

Weight reduction medicine obtained with minimal checks.Credit score:Andrew Ellinghausen

The biggest Australian start-up promoting weight reduction treatment on-line is Eucalyptus, a $560 million firm backed by Woolworths and the Mike Cannon Brookes-chaired Blackbird Ventures funding fund. It’s primarily promoting a drug referred to as Saxenda, an Ozempic precursor, via its Juniper model for ladies and Pilot for males. Whereas it can not title the medicine it sells attributable to promoting legal guidelines, Juniper is closely promoting weight reduction. It had 51 adverts on Fb and Instagram within the three weeks to April 24. Many capitalise on unfulfilled demand for Ozempic, which is in very brief provide each in Australia and overseas due to big demand. ”Juniper’s Weight Reset Program provides a extremely efficient treatment created for weight reduction, not diabetes,” one in every of its adverts reads. “Truly losing a few pounds nearly effortlessly,” one other quotes an unnamed affected person saying.

This masthead went via the method to get a prescription from Juniper, answering questions the best way a affected person would in the event that they wished weight reduction medicine however didn’t really want them. Juniper’s web site requested about 40 questions on issues together with different medicines, eating regimen and physique dimension. Relying on their solutions, the corporate says customers might be requested many extra questions, however the total course of is fast – on this masthead’s case, lower than 10 minutes. The Sydney Morning Herald and Age entered fictitious details about weight, inflating it from 55 to 95 kilograms and making the affected person technically overweight.

Eucalyptus’ medical doctors didn’t question the data or ask for images once they responded with a standardised textual content message the following day and really helpful Saxenda. (Throughout a number of makes an attempt, we acquired equivalent communications from completely different Eucalyptus GPs.) The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age went via with a $395 buy. A pharmacy partnered with Eucalyptus shipped out a month’s provide of Saxenda, and it arrived at our doorstep 10 days later. Contained in the brown cardboard field have been a branded scale, measuring tape, data pamphlets, sharps disposal bin and a pack of injection pens, all despatched with out this masthead supplying any type of ID.

Injection pens arrived in 10 days.

Injection pens arrived in 10 days.Credit score:Alex Ellinghausen

Telehealth boomed in the course of the pandemic, providing sufferers in lockdown or regional areas a fast manner to hook up with their medical doctors and a discreet discussion board to speak about non-public well being points. However it has limitations, not least depriving medical doctors of the power to see sufferers eye to eye. The Medical Board of Australia says its telehealth pointers require practitioners to verify their affected person’s id. “These necessities don’t seem to have been met within the state of affairs that you’ve got described,” the board’s spokeswoman says.

Dr Elizabeth Deveny, the chief government of the Shopper Well being Discussion board of Australia, a affected person advocacy group, says the potential for somebody with an consuming dysfunction to entry a weight reduction drug with out ever having to point out their look may very well be harmful. “In case you walked right into a GP and even had a telehealth, saying you wished to strive a brand new weight reduction drug, they’d say ‘grasp on a minute’,” Deveny says. “That is the chance of this being completed in isolation.”


The Royal Australian Faculty of GPs’ weight problems administration group chair, Dr Terri-Lynne South, is equally involved. She says these new weight reduction remedies are an unprecedented alternative for folks with severe well being points, however there’s a motive they aren’t accessible over-the-counter. “All potential medicines are open to misuse, and that’s the priority with prescribers not having the ability to assess somebody absolutely. [That person] could also be making an attempt to take a look at inappropriate quick weight reduction by itself, they usually’re risking important secondary well being penalties for that.”

An business government, who spoke anonymously to candidly focus on rivals, says of firms targeted on Saxenda: “When all you have got is a hammer, every part begins to seem like a nail.”

Eucalyptus’ chief government Tim Doyle defended his firm in an announcement, saying it had unbiased medical doctors, a rigorous course of and rejected about 40 per cent of sufferers in search of telehealth remedy. Eucalyptus recommends Saxenda due to medical proof, Doyle says. “It’s unlawful in Australia to misinform a health care provider with a view to entry prescription treatment,” Doyle says. “Uncommon instances of deliberate and unlawful deception to acquire secure treatment for weight reduction administration have to be objectively balanced towards the fact of the belief inherent within the healthcare sector and the truth that weight problems is an epidemic which prices the Australian healthcare system billions of {dollars}.”

Eucalyptus chief executive Tim Doyle, photographed last year, has defended his company in comparison to the existing health system.

Eucalyptus chief government Tim Doyle, photographed final 12 months, has defended his firm compared to the prevailing well being system.Credit score:Rhett Wyman

(This masthead entered fictitious data into Eucalyptus’ quiz as a part of a public curiosity journalism undertaking to check prescribing requirements at a serious telehealth enterprise. Not one of the medicine that have been shipped have been consumed.)

Saxenda is a part of a brand new technology of weight reduction medicine that features the headline-grabbing Ozempic – which is subsidised for sort 2 diabetes in Australia however extensively unavailable attributable to a worldwide scarcity – in addition to Wegovy and Mounjaro, that are but to hit cabinets. All of them work by mimicking hormones that trigger the physique to really feel full, making it simpler for folks to cease consuming after solely a bit of meals. And in contrast to previous weight reduction medicines, a few of which have been amphetamines with extreme unwanted effects, the downsides of those new medicine are extra manageable. Nausea, diarrhoea, constipation and dehydration are a few of the most typical. However Saxenda can even trigger despair, its producer warns, and Ozempic can set off pancreatitis or extreme allergic reactions in some. Even the extra pedestrian unwanted effects might be extreme sufficient for some customers to cease taking the treatment. “The three-4 days after the jab every week are a nightmare, with fixed diarrhoea and vomiting!” says one on-line discussion board member, talking for a lot of.

Regardless of the unwanted effects, medical research again up the spectacular before-and-after images plastered on social media. Sixty per cent of sufferers on Saxenda, which has been permitted in Australia since 2016, misplaced not less than 5 per cent of their physique weight, based on its maker (maintaining it off is one other matter). Wegovy, a more recent and better dose drug from the Danish pharmaceutical large behind Ozempic, has been permitted for weight reduction remedy in Australia however was knocked again by the Pharmaceutical Advantages Scheme. Producer Novo Nordisk, which claims about half of Wegovy sufferers in research have misplaced 15 per cent of their physique weight, is now deciding when to launch it in Australia as a non-subsidised product. American firm Eli Lilly is producing much more hype with its Mounjaro product, which can be thought-about by the PBS for itemizing in July .

Each Novo Nordisk and Eli Lilly have seen their share worth greater than double within the final two years, and are actually value about $426 billion and $609 billion respectively.

Eucalyptus, which was based by 4 males from Sydney’s start-up world in 2019, has zeroed in on the load loss market and acquired about $150 million from its backers in a rustic the place analysis agency IBIS World estimates about three-quarters of the inhabitants are chubby or overweight.The newest $50 million tranche got here earlier this 12 months regardless of an surroundings through which many startups are struggling to get funding. The Australian Monetary Evaluate reported that its buyers – the sort who sometimes need 10 to 100 instances return – see Juniper’s weight reduction product as Eucalyptus’ “crown jewel”.


Sufferers on weight reduction medicine, nevertheless, have had wildly completely different experiences. Some battle to remain on them due to the unwanted effects. US plus-size mannequin Remi Bader (2.2 million followers on TikTok) advised a podcast she had put “double the load again” after she stopped utilizing Ozempic amid struggles with binge-eating. “I used to be like, I guess the second I obtained off I’m gonna get ravenous once more … I did,” she stated.

Behaviour has lengthy been recognised as one reason for weight problems, however an individual’s surroundings and genetics additionally play a serious position. These elements are a lot tougher to alter. College of Sydney Professor Louise Baur, an internationally recognised paediatrician and weight problems professional, says some folks with weight problems would possibly have the ability to change their habits whereas taking weight reduction treatment for a brief interval, however others will want years of help from professionals like dieticians or psychologists. “For many individuals, they are going to be on medicines, doubtlessly lifelong,” says Baur, who can be the president of the World Weight problems Federation.

Specualtion is rife that Kim Kardashian achieved her newly trim figure, displayed at the Met Gala in 2022, with the help of Ozempic or similar medication.

Specualtion is rife that Kim Kardashian achieved her newly trim determine, displayed on the Met Gala in 2022, with the assistance of Ozempic or comparable treatment.Credit score:Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

No matter their long-term results, these medicine are having a cultural influence. The world appears to be in its Ozempic section – one the place magnificence norms are shifting again to a thinner excellent after a decade of Kardashian-inflected our bodies with fuller curves. (The Kardashians have hit again at stories they’re Ozempic customers with half-hearted denials.) College of NSW Professor Deborah Lupton, a sociologist of well being, understands the argument that weight reduction medicine would possibly assist weight problems be seen extra as a organic subject and fewer as an ethical failing. However she thinks the best way bariatric surgical procedure was hyped within the Nineteen Nineties is a extra apt comparability. “The subtext [for that was] that is the final resort for individuals who can’t use their willpower,” Lupton says. “And I believe there may very well be some form of glimmer of that in these medicine as effectively.”

Eucalyptus is way from the one firm capitalising on the cultural second. Midnight Well being, a start-up majority-owned by large well being insurer NIB Group, sells medicines via its Hub Well being, Stagger and Youly manufacturers. It’s also making an attempt to develop rapidly and disrupt an business, with the backing of the $3.8 billion NIB behind it, which is increasing its enterprise to offering remedies in addition to paying for them.

This masthead bought a month’s provide of Saxenda via Hub Well being by filling out a questionnaire and inflating the load given from 65 to 119 kilograms. The positioning didn’t require a Medicare quantity, photograph ID or video. A Hub Well being nurse referred to as a day later, requested to verify the acknowledged birthdate, and, after working via some unwanted effects, really helpful Saxenda. It was shipped from a suburban Brisbane pharmacy 5 days later for $395.


Midnight Well being founder Nic Blair says the corporate abides by all nationwide pointers and laws, together with a three-point id examine. These clinicians are paid per session, whether or not or not they grant a prescription, and he says Midnight declines a couple of third of individuals in search of weight reduction remedy. “Our clinicians function independently and are free to make their very own medical selections,” Blair says.

”Fraudulent provision of knowledge by sufferers to acquire a prohibited drug, which is a legal offence, is a matter throughout a spread of affected person care settings … We evaluation and strengthen our medical governance frameworks and goal to enhance our providers as requirements or pointers change.” And he defends his enterprise, saying it offers important care, particularly to folks in regional areas. NIB wouldn’t remark about its oversight of the start-up.

Weight-loss drugs obtained over the internet without ID checks.

Weight-loss medicine obtained over the web with out ID checks.Credit score:Alex Ellinghausen

One other start-up, Mosh, is tougher to cheat as a result of it requires pictures of its clients after the fee stage, together with one holding an identification card. Mosh says the latter characteristic got here in about two months in the past, “because of Mosh always evaluating processes and protocols as a part of its medical governance”. This masthead stopped the acquisition course of after we have been requested for a photograph with ID.

A fourth firm, Burst Well being, additionally requires {a photograph} of customers, which it says is verified by a health care provider after a affected person makes fee. However its quiz is barely 16 questions lengthy and might be accomplished in a couple of minutes, with no queries on issues like a affected person’s household medical historical past. A few of its messaging is complicated, too. Whereas its Google ads inform potential clients that there’s “no physician seek the advice of required”, the load loss quiz says a health care provider has supplied you with “personalised remedy”.

An organization consultant, Ann, who didn’t present a surname, says the corporate verifies all affected person data via a cellphone name with a licensed physician, {a photograph} and checks on Medicare data after the fee had been processed. “It really isn’t as simple as you assume,” she says. One other consultant, Chris, didn’t deal with the conflicting statements that Burst makes on-line. This masthead didn’t proceed with the Burst buy due to the photograph examine.

The Medical Board of Australia has already moved to crack down on medical doctors handing out prescriptions based mostly solely on a buyer’s written solutions. Draft pointers issued earlier this 12 months would successfully ban the observe for sufferers that a health care provider has by no means spoken with earlier than, whether or not over the cellphone or in individual. It’s now reviewing submissions and deciding whether or not to place that rule into observe, saying it agrees telehealth is a crucial device however “affected person security comes first”.


“A text-based well being questionnaire accomplished by a affected person and skim by a health care provider at a distinct time isn’t a doctor-patient session,” a board spokeswoman says. “By our investigations we’ve seen some on-line fashions of affected person care that fail to make sure the identical requirements of care are supplied.” And whereas she says the board is unable to debate particular person instances or present names, she confirmed it had banned some practitioners from doing telehealth prescriptions due to security failures.

However the conventional medical system is going through a number of challenges, too. One estimate from Deloitte Entry Economics predicts there can be about 600 too few GPs in Australia this 12 months and a shortfall of greater than 11,000 inside a decade. There has additionally been an increase in corporate-owned medical clinics that may churn via sufferers in six minutes, typically through the cellphone, with the taxpayer selecting up a part of the invoice via Medicare. In rural areas, the provision of medical doctors is worse, with the NSW Regional Docs community warning final 12 months that there may very well be 60 areas in coming years with no resident GP.

Eucalyptus and several other different telehealth firms have hit again towards the board’s proposed adjustments, arguing that they ship medication simply in addition to the mainstream well being sector. Its lead investor, Blackbird, is firmly standing by the corporate as a manner of addressing not simply weight problems, however different males’s, ladies’s and pores and skin well being points. Woolworths, which has a smaller stake, declined to remark.

Doyle, Eucalyptus’ chief government, argues that the general public well being system solely provides fragmented care and forces sufferers to see a number of completely different and costly professionals. “In contrast to with a neighborhood GP, when the appointment ends our remedy doesn’t,” he says. “Drugs is rarely the one reply to weight reduction – and we assist sufferers with eating regimen, train and motivation in ways in which most neighborhood GPs don’t.”

Eucalyptus, which has not billed Medicare something for the 700,000 consultations it says its medical doctors have completed, has Fb teams for its sufferers to speak to one another, not too long ago launched an app, and makes medical doctors and dieticians accessible to reply questions on-line. It claims its figures present its Saxenda shoppers lose extra weight than these in medical trials.

With a flailing major care system and well being sector lagging on digital comfort, telehealth start-ups could make a persuasive pitch: they’ve decreased the “friction” of getting a prescription, to clients’ delight. However the system they’ve arrange has prices. The pharmacies that Eucalyptus directs enterprise to paid it $25.6 million in charges final 12 months, based on paperwork lodged with the Australian Securities and Investments Fee, blurring the road between two sides of the medical system which might be presupposed to be separate. Eucalyptus stated that association had no influence on the autonomy of its medical doctors and that sufferers might select which pharmacy they wished to produce the treatment.


Baur, the College of Sydney weight problems professional, sees the worth of telehealth however believes sufferers ought to see a health care provider in individual recurrently too. “ I see individuals who actually need these medicines. [But] these items might be abused… And I believe that you must have programs that keep away from folks having the ability to abuse the system.”

Abused or not, the push to get weight reduction treatment is making it laborious for some customers with real medical want to search out it. Phil Ford – a 63-year-old man who has had sort two diabetes for 23 years and located Ozempic the best remedy he has tried – can not get it. “I’ve given up asking my chemist,” Ford says. “He is aware of I would like it, I simply haven’t been capable of get it.”

Desperation is driving others to doubtful locations. One web site, Your Physique Knowledgeable, which is really helpful on Australian weight reduction boards, tells customers they need to pay in cryptocurrency earlier than it would ship Ozempic from someplace abroad. (The web site didn’t reply to inquiries).

Cryptocurrency funds can’t be reversed by a financial institution if the vendor seems to supply a defective product, and abroad sellers are past the attain of Australia’s drug licensing regime, which exams merchandise for security and high quality. The Therapeutic Items Administration has needed to warn of a number of Ozempic scams too. And whereas Saxenda is way more available, that will not final lengthy. This week Eucalyptus started warning sufferers that there may very well be a scarcity creating.

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