- The Food and Drug Administration is reporting shortages of the type 2 diabetes drug Ozempic.
- The news comes after the medication has gone viral for leading to weight loss.
- Experts say some people are taking the drug off-label to lose weight.
The prescription drug Ozempic, used to treat patients with type 2 diabetes, has gone viral on the social media platform TikTok because of its weight-loss side effect. Because the results are so dramatic, there has been a rise in patients who do not have type 2 diabetes seeking the medication off-label to take it for its weight-loss effects, which has resulted in a shortage of the medication for people with type 2 diabetes who need it for other reasons.
The shortage of the medication is starting to become a serious problem for patients who need it to help manage their type 2 diabetes, leading them to have to turn to other avenues that may be less effective.
Ozempic is an injectable medication that is taken on a weekly basis for the treatment of type 2 diabetes. It is used to manage blood sugar levels in adults, along with lifestyle improvements in diet and exercise.
“Ozempic belongs to the GLP-1 RA medication family, which helps patients in three ways,” said Martha Garcia-Stout, PharmD, JD, a lecturer within the College of Health Professions and Sciences at the University of Central Florida. “It helps by slowing stomach emptying, which delays the absorption of nutrients, preventing a glucose spike after meals; increasing the level of circulating insulin by stimulating the production of more insulin; and reducing the release of additional sugar from the liver into the bloodstream.”
As part of the treatment for type 2 diabetes, Ozempic helps regulate digestion and appetite, causing someone to feel full so that they eat fewer calories.
Ozempic can increase the amount of insulin in your body so your blood sugar doesn’t spike, it can slow the movement of food through your stomach and can lower the amount of sugar in your bloodstream.
One result of using Ozempic is weight loss. It has gone viral on TikTok with hashtags #Ozempic and #OzempicWeightLoss, which both reveal videos that have had millions of viewers tuned in to see the dramatic weight loss transformations among those who are taking the medication, many of whom do not have type 2 diabetes.
“Ozempic is a very potent glucose-lowering medication and it is one of the most effective glucose medicines we have. But it also has some really important benefits on weight loss, which is usually important for people with type 2 diabetes,” said Dr. Kathleen Dungan, a specialist in endocrinology, diabetes and metabolism at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
As a result, Ozempic is being prescribed off-label, which refers to taking an FDA-approved drug for a non-FDA-approved use.
“Non-diabetic people who are looking to lose weight are requesting prescriptions for Ozempic from their doctors to also achieve the same significant weight loss and appetite suppressive effects,” said Garcia-Stout.
It’s certainly creating a problem for diabetics who are in need of getting the medications that they need. In fact, the Food & Drug Administration has it listed on its website as “Currently in Shortage.”
“It’s becoming a big issue because patients have to be their own advocate,” said Dungan. “They have to notify their provider if they are unable to obtain the prescription There is not an automatic substitution. A provider will have to write for a substation, but there may not always be one depending on the dose the patient is on.”
In addition, the substation may not be covered on that patient’s insurance plan and there may be restrictions that prevent them from switching.
“If a patient is not a real advocate for themselves and they don’t transition to something else, then they can be at risk for their blood sugars getting out of control, which could lead to events like hospitalization,” Dungan added.
Ozempic has a sister drug, Wegovy, which actually has been approved for weight loss in people with obesity. The drug contains the same active ingredient that is in Ozempic — semaglutide. Wegovy, like Ozempic, is also in shortage.
“Wegovy uses the same molecule, but is dosed differently and has a different FDA regulation and guidance,” said Dungan.
While Ozempic and Wegovy contain the same active ingredient, one is FDA-approved for weight loss, and the other is not. Novo Nordisk, the manufacturer of both drugs, says the two are not interchangeable.
According to the Novo Nordisk website, “Although Wegovy and Ozempic both contain semaglutide, they are different products with different indications, dosages, titration schedules, etc. The products are not interchangeable. Other FDA-approved medications for chronic weight management are available.”
In addition, Ozempic has side effects that can be uncomfortable, including:
Serious side effects can include:
- Diabetic retinopathy
- Gallbladder disease
- Allergic reaction
“Patients can speak with their doctor about switching to an alternative GLP-1 RA product,” said Garcia-Stout. “This may include using other semaglutide products. Patients can also look to other members of the GLP-1 RA drug family, such as the injectable alternatives of dulaglutide (Trulicity), exenatide (Bydureon), or liraglutide (Victoza), as well as the oral alternatives of lixisenatide (Adlyxin) and oral exenatide (Byetta).”