Shots in the Dark
Vanity Fair US|June 2024
The Ozempic weight-loss miracle has a dark side: As desperate patients contend with shortages and skyhigh prices, a world of criminals and con artists are filling the void with lifethreatening counterfeits. KATHERINE EBAN investigates our alarmingly active pharmaceutical underground
KATHERINE EBAN
Shots in the Dark

IN EARLY DECEMBER, James Pinckney II, MD, stood in a cold warehouse in Elmira, New York, surveying what looked like the deal of the century.

Pallets of blue coolers stretched before him, each packed with boxes bearing the logo of Danish drugmaker Novo Nordisk: an Egyptian Apis bull, representing strength and fertility, balancing the sun between its horns.

Until recently, Novo Nordisk was a sleepy century-old insulin manufacturer. But in the past two years, its diabetes treatment Ozempic has swept the world. After a clinical trial confirmed that the drug, first approved by the US Food and Drug Administration in 2017, produces miraculous weight loss, influencers from Elon Musk to Oprah helped popularize it.

The drug has brought new hope to those struggling with obesity and made Novo Nordisk Europe’s most valuable company even as it tore open a Pandora’s box of human vanity. The frenzy surrounding it has sparked global shortages.

Pinckney, an ebullient family medicine doctor married to a former Sports Illustrated swimsuit model, is the founder and CEO of Diamond Health, a concierge medical practice in Dallas. His quest for affordable Ozempic had brought him to the warehouse of F.M. Howell & Company, a midsize pharmaceutical distributor founded in 1883.

Snapping photos, Pinckney closely examined the shrink-wrapped boxes of Ozempic, each containing a single fourdose pen of injectable semaglutide, the peptide developed by Novo Nordisk that increases the body’s insulin production, slows digestion, and decreases appetite.

Pinckney left favorably impressed with the potential windfall. Here was a reputable wholesaler with thousands of Ozempic pens at a relatively affordable price.

This story is from the June 2024 edition of Vanity Fair US.

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This story is from the June 2024 edition of Vanity Fair US.

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