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New research reveals which states have the highest number of prescriptions for GLP-1 drugs like Ozempic and Wegovy. Alejandra de la Fuente/Getty Images
  • Certain Southern states have higher rates of prescriptions for GLP-1 drugs.
  • Kentucky ranked the highest, followed by West Virginia.
  • Rhode Island and Massachusetts had the lowest rates of prescriptions.
  • Experts say factors that influence this could be diabetes and associated obesity.
  • Disparities in access to healthcare might also play a role.

According to reporting by Axios, certain Southern states had higher rates of prescriptions for GLP-1 drugs like Ozempic and Wegovy.

Their analysis found that Kentucky was the leader among all 50 states, with about 21 prescriptions per every 1,000 people.

Next in line were West Virginia (18.9 per 1,000), Alaska (17.5), Mississippi (16.1), and Louisiana (15.4).

At the other end of the spectrum, the states with the lowest rates were Rhode Island (3.7 per 1,000), Massachusetts (4), Wisconsin (4.3), and Hawai’i (4.3).

One, perhaps surprising, finding noted by Axios is the fact that California’s prescribing rate was only 5.5 per 1,000 people. Given the popularity of anti-obesity drugs among actors and other celebrities, it might be expected among the general public that the state’s rate would be higher.

Axios explains, however, that the data used doesn’t reflect any prescriptions that people paid for out of pocket. This could account for the lower rate, per the outlet.

The report was based on data from PurpleLab, a health analytics company.

Axios states that 1.9 billion claims from private insurers, Medicare, and Medicaid were used to formulate the report.

Prescriptions for GLP-1 agonist drugs like Ozempic, Wegovy, Mounjaro, and Zepbound, which are used in the treatment of diabetes and/or obesity, were included in the analysis.

The data was not separated out by how the drugs were used, although Axios notes that Medicaid only allows for their usage in the treatment of diabetes.

The data also does not show how long people took the drugs.

Dan Gallagher, a Registered Dietitian with Aegle Nutrition, said that while it could be tempting to believe that the states with the highest prescription rates are simply the states with the highest obesity rates. However, it’s more complicated than that.

“There is a correlation between the two, but the southern states that are ranked as the highest for prescribing GLP-1 drugs are also the states with the highest occurrence of diabetes,” he explained.

“Given that the results were from insurance claims and insurance doesn’t cover GLP-1 drugs for weight loss, it’s safe to assume these states still have the highest occurrence of diabetes. It’s simply a coincidence that diabetes and obesity are linked,” said Gallagher.

Mike Breslin at ProMed DME, a medical equipment and supplies company, added that he feels several factors could be at play.

“These states may have higher rates of obesity and type 2 diabetes, two conditions that GLP-1 drugs are often prescribed to manage,” he stated.

“Additionally, disparities in access to healthcare, including insurance coverage, may also be factors.”

Breslin added that, based on his experience working in the continuous glucose monitoring sector, he has observed that insurance coverage can vary widely across different states, which can impact how quickly a particular state adopts a newer therapy like GLP-1 drugs.

“As to whether the trend is a positive one, it largely depends on the larger healthcare context,” said Breslin. “If the increased usage of GLP-1 drugs is associated with improved management of diabetes and weight loss, and patients are able to access them without financial strain, then one could argue that it’s positive.”

“But if increased usage is merely reflective of growing rates of obesity and type 2 diabetes without concomitant improvements in health outcomes or if it’s straining individuals’ finances due to limited insurance coverage, the picture becomes less rosy,” he added.

Breslin concluded by noting that widespread adoption of any new healthcare tool is “a nuanced issue.” Factors such as patient outcomes, affordability, and equality of access must be considered.

Data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that the highest prescribing rates are among those states with a greater prevalence of diabetes and obesity.

This could be an indicator that the medications are getting to where they are most needed, per Axios.

A new report from Axios has revealed that certain Southern states — including Kentucky, West Virginia, Mississippi, and Louisiana — have much higher prescription rates for GLP-1 agonist drugs like Ozempic and Wegovy.

While it might be tempting to think it’s because there are greater rates of obesity in these states, experts say the higher prescription rates are more likely because there are greater rates of diabetes. Obesity and diabetes tend to go hand in hand, however.

Experts say that whether this trend is a positive thing will depend on context. Patient outcomes, affordability, and equality of access all must be considered.