A woman consults with a doctor via computer in her living roomShare on Pinterest
Experts say there are ways to lose weight that don’t involve medications. VISUALSPECTRUM/Stocksy
  • Eli Lilly is limiting access to its drug tirzepatide (brand name Mounjaro), focusing its use on people with type 2 diabetes.
  • The decision may impact people who have been taking the drug for weight loss.
  • Some experts say there are lifestyle changes that can effectively help people lose weight without taking medication while others say it’s unfair to deny the medication to people with obesity.

People who use tirzepatide — sold under the brand name of Mounjaro — for weight loss or obesity might soon find themselves scrambling for a new strategy.

That’s because pharmaceutical manufacturer Eli Lilly and Company, along with local pharmacies, are tightening access to the drug.

They are prioritizing use for people with type 2 diabetes, which is the only group the drug has been authorized to treat so far.

According to experts interviewed by Healthline, while the limiting of the drug may be frustrating for people who’ve come to rely on it, the rationale makes sense.

They add that for those who’ve come to rely on the medication for weight loss, there are other strategies to try out, although other experts say it’s unfair to deny the medication to people with obesity.

Tirzepatide hasn’t been on the scene for that long.

Eli Lilly first applied for and published a patent for it in 2016. It was approved for medical use in the United States earlier this year after passing phase 3 clinical trials in 2021.

Tirzepatide works by stimulating the release of insulin from the pancreas, which helps with blood sugar control.

As a GLP-1 receptor agonist, the drug can help people feel more full. While it’s only been approved for use in people with type 2 diabetes, people with obesity have also found success using the drug.

This explosion of popularity so soon after the drug hit market has created some growing pains.

The pharmaceutical company has emphasized that there isn’t a shortage of tirzepatide, but they have sharpened their focus to limit its usage to those who have type 2 diabetes.

While the news may be frustrating for those who were using tirzepatide solely for weight loss, it bears repeating that the drug is not approved for this group of people.

Nancy Mitchell, a registered nurse and contributing writer at Assisted Living Center, who works with people with type 2 diabetes, told Healthline that this move shouldn’t come as a surprise.

“The bottom line is that [Eli Lilly] only had permissions from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to dispense the drug to patients diagnosed with type 2 diabetes,” she explained.

“There’s been an uptick in purchases since more people discovered its ability to aid in weight loss. But high demand at the pharmacies means increased demand for manufacturers,” Mitchell added. “This isn’t really a ‘shortage’ per se. Instead, it’s a means of dialing down on the urgency to manufacture more of the drug, dispensing it to those who are, for now, on the top of their priority list legally.”

However, other experts find the decision to limit the use of tirzepatide unfair to people with obesity.

“It’s unfair to people who have obesity because there’s a drug that actually can very well help them and there’s a provider who wants to treat obesity, yet does not have access to a very reasonable treatment,” said Dr. W. Scott Butsch, the director of obesity medicine in the Bariatric and Metabolic Institute at the Cleveland Clinic, in an Advisory Board posting.

Butsch added people with type 2 diabetes have other medications available to them, but people with obesity have few other treatment options.

In addition, there’s an overlap between diabetes and obesity as people with obesity have a high risk of eventually developing type 2 diabetes, according to Dr. Beverly Tchang, an endocrinologist and assistant professor of clinical medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City.

“Obesity can lead to diabetes. Diabetes can lead to obesity,” she said in the Advisory Board posting. “They’re very much intertwined and to treat one but not the other seems inequitable.”

The promise of a new medication that can help with weight loss is enticing.

But when it comes to good overall health, experts say there aren’t really any shortcuts.

Julianna Coughlin, a registered dietitian who works in outpatient care with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, says she’s counseled clients who have found weight loss success with tirzepatide, but she still advises lifestyle interventions over medications.

Coughlin says the conversation usually begins with a frank discussion about diet.

“We talk about what they are eating, how much, how often,” she told Healthline. “Drinking enough water? What does your exercise look like? Want to join a support group? Meds are my last resort. All of the people I have now who are on weight loss meds are on them from their doctor’s suggestion.”

Making lifestyle changes can be daunting, but Coughlin suggests starting with a goal and using small tasks to build toward it.

“Identify what your goal is and then identify one to three habits you have — I call them ‘default settings’ — that you do with little to no thought but aren’t getting you toward your goal,” she explained. “Then think about how you can change this habit to better move toward your goals and then slowly, over time, replace that old habit step-by-step with a new, healthier, goal-oriented one.”

Eli Lilly restricting access to tirzepatide doesn’t mean that medication will never be approved for people with obesity.

It also doesn’t mean there are no alternative drugs.

Other GLP-1 receptor agonists such as Wegovy and Ozempic have been experiencing shortages and they too can be difficult to find.

Industry regulators will re-assess tirzepatide at a later date, possibly paving the way for it to be approved to treat obesity, but this review isn’t likely to take place until later next year.