Mon. Jul 22nd, 2024

Louisville patients warn about dangers of weight loss drugs and life-changing side effects | WDRB Investigates

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — A Louisville woman claims a popular weight loss drug she was prescribed for Type 2 diabetes almost killed her. 

WDRB Investigates started digging into the serious side effects of drugs like Ozempic and found thousands of others are suffering too.

For Jacqueline Barber, it’s been a long health journey.

“I just see my sisters and my dad, how upset they were and they would see me every week and I would get smaller and smaller,” Barber said, starting to cry while talking about the health issues she has suffered.

Doctors prescribed Ozempic to treat Barber’s Type 2 diabetes back in 2021, but she said it gave her a lot of complications and she couldn’t eat. Barber said the only thing she could keep down without throwing up was peanuts, peanut butter crackers and peanut butter cookies.

“To lay on the couch and throw up nonstop, can’t hardly make it to walk, go anywhere, it’s very depressing,” she said. “I ended up losing 140 pounds. I was down to around 87 pounds, couldn’t walk or get around, couldn’t get off the couch. Nobody knew what was going on. No one put the two together.”

Three years ago, drugs like Ozempic, Wegovy, and Mounjaro weren’t popular weight loss medications.

“Never heard of the medicine before,” said Barber.

But now, you see commercials for the medications all over TV and social media. 

While Barber’s diabetic levels got under control, her doctors finally told her to stop taking the Ozempic after two years in 2023 because of the complications she was having.

“My stomach was paralyzed,” she said. “I couldn’t tolerate anything.”

Barber had developed gastroparesis, but she’s not the only one who has taken weight loss medication and developed complications.

“What gastroparesis is, when food goes down to the stomach and it doesn’t empty out to the small intestine, so it just sits in the stomach,” said Dr. John Oldham, a bariatric surgeon with Baptist Health.

Oldham said patients on any of the weight loss medications need to be monitored closely.

“You just need to make sure you are doing this through your doctor. You’re going to have follow up. You’re going to have bloodwork (to see) that you are tolerating the medication well,” he said. “Ozempic and Wegovy, on average, we’re seeing 15% of weight loss.”

Oldham said there are benefits to the drugs, which he said also help with cardiovascular and kidney diseases.

“The rare things, the thyroid tumors, cancers, we have not seen though,” he said. “That’s what we saw in rodents when the study came out.”

Oldham said patients with a history of thyroid issues are not prescribed these drugs.

“The biggest side effect with this medicine is nausea, he said, adding that the nausea should only last a few hours and if it’s long-term, make sure you contact your doctor.

Oldham said doctors are often seeing patients in the ER for complications to the weight loss medications.

“When I just left the hospital to come over today, (I) was counseled on patient that came to the emergency room this morning who took her second dose of Mounjaro medication. Just three hours later, she was having abdominal pain, bloating,” he said. “Her CT scan is actually showing a gastric outlet obstruction, where her stomach is very dilated full of food, not wanting to pass.”

He said there are several other cases of complications too.

“I just had a study couple days ago, the patient died from necroptosis, pancreatitis. The patient was taking Mounjaro, Zepbound, don’t know if the medication caused the pancreatitis,” Oldham said, adding most people can get pancreatitis resolved without dying.

“I have one patient that I’m doing a gastric bypass on, that has gastroparesis,” he said. “She was taking the medication back in the fall, only taking it for a month and now has severe gastroparesis where nothing is helping.”

Barber’s attorney Andrew Van Arsdale, with the AVA Law Group, said he now represents 213 patients across Indiana and Kentucky with similar issues.

“We know roughly 3% of the U.S. population is on the drugs and there is increasingly alarming rates of serious gastro and intestinal problems with the population that is taking this drug,” Van Arsdale said.

Seventeen of those cases are from the Louisville area. Van Arsdale’s lawsuit against Novo Nordisk, the maker of Ozempic and the makers of similar drugs, represents over 2,000 patients across the country. He said there are thousands of patients dealing with side effects of the drugs.

“I think in country as a whole there are over 10,000 known cases at the time. That number is unfortunately growing every day,” he said. “The lawsuits are all about asking the drug companies that are aware of these dangers to adequately warn consumers.”

Van Arsdale said of his more than 2,000 clients, 60% were using the drugs for weight loss, and 40% for diabetes. 

“Each of the manufacturers making drugs in this category need to do better,” he said.

WDRB Investigates heard from several other patients with similar side effects after taking a popular weight loss drugs.

A Prospect woman said she was prescribed Wegovy for weight loss and it led to bowel issues that involved a major surgery.

“I began taking Wegovy about 2.5 years ago when I was suffering from back arthritis pretty badly,” said the woman, who didn’t want to be identified. “My pain management doctor told me it was all due to my weight (220 pounds) and that I needed to lose weight now, or I would be in pain for the rest of my life.

“I was prescribed Wegovy by my general practitioner. No warnings, no talks, just a prescription. I started taking it and was having the ‘normal’ side effects I read on the package (nausea).”

She said her side effects became major complications that eventually led to surgery.

“Going from 220 to 146 pounds, and back up to 220 pounds, in two years has been absolutely devastating to my body and mind,” she said. “I want doctors to check in with patients. I want it known that this is a medication you will take for life, or you will gain it back immediately. I want it known that it can cause anorexia. I want it known that it can destroy your colon.”

Jada Kimbro, from Murray, Kentucky, told WDRB News “I do still have to take the Ozempic although I would like to switch. I have lost almost 40 pounds since I began it about a year and a half ago.

Jada Kimbro

Jada Kimbro provided this picture of what she looked like before taking Ozempic. 

“I haven’t been hospitalized like some have. I had the gastroparesis study done and a scope last year both were fine they said. I would like to add though this has also deteriorated a lot of the muscle I have. I used to be very athletically built, but my muscle sometimes feel like it wraps over my bones, especially in my legs and buttock regions,” Kimbro said.

Jada Kimbro

Jada Kimbro provided this picture of what she looks like after taking Ozempic. 

Rose Daugherty, from Winchester, Kentucky, said she had similar complications that sent her to the emergency room.

“(I) have had nothing but sickness since taking Ozempic, throwing up and diarrhea,” Daugherty said. “I even had to go to the ER for dehydration and even now am still sick a lot of times.”

The lawsuits against Ozempic and other drug makers have now been consolidated in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

“These guys are making so much money by prescribing this drug to anyone and everyone that is able to get their hands on it,” said Van Arsdale. “They have an obligation to do better to warn about the dangers associated with it.”

Van Arsdale said the case is a mass tort, where damages are different than a class action lawsuit.

“When we look at these cases, they have to look at it on a per claimant basis and make reparations and restitutions on how severely the drug affected them, so it’s called a mass torte,” he said.

“Someone starting the drug today doesn’t understand the risks of gastroparesis because these drug companies have failed to adequately warn them and we’re asking them to correct that problem,” Van Arsdale said. “Hoping to get a trial as soon as humanly possible and to put on our evidence why the drug makers knew of these dangers and why they’re liable to Jacqueline and others for failing to prevent this from happening to them.”

Novo Nordisk declined an on-camera interview, but released this statement to WDRB News:

“Novo Nordisk believes that the allegations in these lawsuits are without merit, and we intend to vigorously defend against these claims. 

“Patient safety is our top priority at Novo Nordisk, and we work closely with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to continuously monitor the safety profile of our medicines. GLP-1 medicines have been used to treat type 2 diabetes (T2D) for more than 18 years, and for the treatment of obesity for 8 years. This includes 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 clinical experience.

“The known risks and benefits of semaglutide and liraglutide medicines are described in their FDA-approved product labeling. Novo Nordisk stands behind the safety and efficacy of all of our GLP-1 medicines when they are used as indicated and when they are taken under the care of a licensed healthcare professional.”

“Well the drug was on the market for couple of years and all of a sudden lot of people had their gallbladder removed as a result of taking these drugs, (so) they updated the label,” said Van Arsdale. “We’re asking them to do the same thing about gastroparesis.”

WDRB News also reached out to Eli Lilly, the maker of Mounjaro, for comment and haven’t heard back.

Barber is now gaining weight and gets the nutrients she needs through an IV when she can’t hold down any food.

“I’ve had this PICC line for a year, ” she said, showing her arm.

Barber also had a gastric stimulator put in, a device to treat stomach muscle issues.

“These are my vitamins and nutrients,” she said, showing a bag for her IV. “This has carbohydrates, lipids, protein.”

Barber said a nurse comes to her house each week. At one point, she had a feeding tube.

“I’m hoping the drug makers have to change this drug,” she said. “If it’s that great and it’s helping the whole population of obesity great, but tell people what can happen to them. Try to do better.”

“We’re not demanding they take the drug off the market,” Van Arsdale added. “We’re not saying this isn’t a great drug. We’re saying let consumers make an educated decision about it.”

Related Stories: 

Ozempic Investigates

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