Social media is abuzz with people sharing stories about weight loss using Ozempic, a drug designed to regulate insulin.
Now, doctors are weighing the context of this influential drug.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved Ozempic, also known as semaglutide, as a treatment for type 2 diabetes alongside diet and exercise if other medications fail to control blood sugar levels well enough.
Studies show that patients with type 2 diabetes — a chronic condition in which the body doesn’t respond well to insulin — taking Ozempic may even reduce their risk of heart disease.
While Ozempic isn’t explicitly approved for chronic weight management, it can be prescribed off-label and used safely for obese people.
Another drug called Wegovy is essentially the same injectable drug prescribed at a higher dosage.
The FDA has specifically approved Wegovy for patients with severe obesity or who are overweight and have one or more weight-related conditions such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol.
Both drugs are currently in shortage, according to the FDA.
Doctors say both drugs are important options for people with obesity and diabetes. More than 40% of Americans are obese and 10% of Americans have diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Obesity is a complex disease. It includes genetic, occupational, hormonal, physical, mental and social factors,” said Dr. Marlena Klein, DO, DABOM, obesity medicine specialist at Cooper University Health Care. “Patients have embraced me in the office and said I’ve changed their lives because it’s allowed them to make changes.”
She continues, “It was like this was a missing piece in trying to get this disease under control.”
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People who don’t have diabetes or obesity may still be prescribed the drug “off-label,” but they may have to pay out of pocket, which could cost $800 to $1,400 for a month’s supply.
Since entering the market, both Ozempic and Wegovy have been in high demand, both for on-label and off-label use.
Novo Nordisk, the company that makes both drugs, says it is currently experiencing “intermittent supply disruptions” of Ozempic due to “incredible demand” coupled with supply chain constraints.
With weight loss being a major concern in the United States, experts hope more patients will have access to these drugs very soon.
Semaglutide works by helping the pancreas release insulin to move sugar from the blood into the body’s tissues.
It also works by slowing down the movement of food through the stomach and curbing appetite, thus causing weight loss. It cannot be given to patients with certain medical conditions, including medullary thyroid cancer, pancreatitis, or gallstones.
Side effects can include severe nausea and constipation.
Its safety has not yet been established in minors.
Doctors will start you with a low dose of the injection and increase your dose after four weeks based on your body’s response.
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Dr. Louis J. Arrone, director of the Comprehensive Weight Control Center at Weill Cornell Medicine and New York Presbyterian, said patients in his practice have been turning to Ozempic because Wegovy is in such short supply.
Novo Nordisk said it was on track to make Wegovy more widely available in December and that a broad commercial relaunch is planned for next year.
Doctors say any patient having difficulty accessing Ozempic or Wegovy due to the current national shortage should speak with their primary care physician or endocrinologist about alternative options within the same drug class.
There are oral forms and other injectable forms that can be administered daily or weekly.
Dr. Avish Jain, DO, is an internal medicine resident at Cooper University Hospital and is a member of the ABC News Medical Unit.
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