Woman Who Sold Misbranded Ozempic on TikTok Faces Smuggling Charge

A woman in New York who was using TikTok to sell unauthorized weight-loss drugs, including products labeled Ozempic, is facing charges of smuggling and receiving and distributing misbranded drugs, federal prosecutors said.

The arrest on Wednesday of Isis Navarro Reyes, 36, who also went by Beraly Navarro and, according to prosecutors, was not licensed to administer medication, followed an investigation that involved an undercover officer. Late last year, the officer sent a message to a cellphone number listed by her at the end of a TikTok video.

In the video, Ms. Reyes, of Shirley, N.Y., on Long Island, showed her viewers how to inject what she claimed was Ozempic and shared her experience using the drug.

In January, after exchanging messages with Ms. Reyes, the officer asked to buy some Ozempic, a drug for diabetes that has become popular for weight loss. The undercover officer sent a digital payment of $375 to a Zelle account in Ms. Reyes’s name and, without having shown evidence of a prescription, received a package containing the product labeled Ozempic, according to the U.S. attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York.

Ms. Reyes’s “alleged unlawful dispensing of these drugs caused significant, life-threatening injuries to some victims and put all of her victims in harm’s way,” Damian Williams, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said in a statement.

Prosecutors said in their complaint that the drugs were “manufactured, prepared, propagated, compounded and processed” outside the United States but did not explain how they had been adulterated.

Ms. Reyes procured the drugs from Central America and South America, and none of them had been approved by the Food and Drug Administration to be sold or dispensed in the United States, prosecutors said. The statement featured screen grabs from Ms. Reyes’s TikTok videos, which showed her holding up the packets of the drugs, which contained labeling in Spanish.

The criminal complaint follows a string of cases involving the use of unlicensed weight-loss drugs, including Ozempic. The drug came to prominence last year after generating buzz in social media, with celebrities like the tech mogul Elon Musk and TikTok influencers saying that they had taken it to lose weight in a short period of time.

The Food and Drug Administration first approved the injectable medication for treatment of diabetes in 2017. In 2021, the agency approved Wegovy, a drug with a higher dose of the active ingredient in Ozempic, called semaglutide, to treat obesity.

In December, the F.D.A. said that it had seized thousands of units of counterfeit Ozempic and cautioned that some fraudulent Ozempic products might still be on the market.

Prosecutors said that Ms. Reyes had also sold drugs marketed as Mesofrance and Axcion, also promoted for weight loss, through her TikTok channel.

Last year, a woman identified by prosecutors only as Victim-1 purchased the drug represented as Mesofrance from Ms. Reyes after having watched her on TikTok. She self-administered 28 injections following instructions from Ms. Reyes and “began developing lesions,” prosecutors said.

Her physician later diagnosed her with a mycobacterium abscessus infection, which is frequently caused by the contamination of medications, medical products and medical devices with the bacterium, prosecutors said. Skin that is infected with the bacterium can be tender to the touch, swollen and painful, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Ms. Reyes was charged with offenses including smuggling, receipt of misbranded drugs in interstate commerce and dispensing misbranded drugs while held for sale. The smuggling charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years, prosecutors said. Her lawyer did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Ms. Reyes appeared in Manhattan federal court on Wednesday, where bail was set at $25,000 and she was ordered to surrender her passport and be fitted with an ankle bracelet, according to court documents.

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