How Ozempic’s Rise to TikTok Stardom Is Impacting Patients with Diabetes

March 2, 2023

The diabetes medication that turned into a dieter’s purported miracle cure

OzempicDid you ever think you’d hear that a drug used to treat type 2 diabetes would be trending on social media? That’s exactly what is happening with Ozempic. The word is spreading like wildfire because of one of its side effects – weight loss – and patient interest has significantly increased during the past six months.

Online influencers continue to publicize their own use of Ozempic for weight loss, with TikTok videos tagged with #ozempic garnering 300 million views. But Ozempic’s presence on social media for losing weight has resulted in shortages of the medication. The scarcity of the drug is sending patients running from pharmacy to pharmacy to find it and now some patients with diabetes are rationing their current supply.

Ozempic is sold as a liquid solution and is administered weekly with an under-the-skin injection.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA)’s website, Current and Resolved Drug Shortages and Discontinuations Reported to FDA, designates Semaglutide (Ozempic) as “Currently in Shortage.” The FDA has also indicated that 1 and 2 milligram doses of Ozempic are currently available, but the 0.25 mg and 0.5 mg injectable versions will remain in short supply until mid-March.

Those living with diabetes use Ozempic to help keep their blood sugar levels in check. Shortages of Ozempic are causing patients with diabetes to suffer, adding difficulties to the already complicated and costly chronic illness. Without this medication, people with type 2 diabetes risk blood sugar spikes that can potentially lead to serious health problems, including heart disease, kidney disease, infections like COVID, disability, hearing loss, stroke and even death.

Do patients have other options? They can obtain a different prescription. But there are always drawbacks to changing medications, such as whether insurance will cover the new medication or whether the alternative drug will work as well as Ozempic.

Although Ozempic has been around for about two decades, the United States approved the drug for use in those with type 2 diabetes in 2017. The drug signals the pancreas to create more insulin, which helps control blood sugar levels and also lowers glucagon, a hormone that raises sugar levels. This can result in weight loss. However, Ozempic has not been approved for that purpose.

Some healthcare professionals have been prescribing it off label to help their patients lose weight, and it’s not unusual for doctors to prescribe medications for “off-label” use, or for a different purpose from what the medication is explicitly intended.

Robert Gabbay, MD, PhD, chief science and medical officer of the American Diabetes Association, recently suggested that physicians should prioritize Ozempic prescriptions for diabetes patients due to the shortage.

Ozempic’s website describes the use of the medication for adults with type 2 diabetes:

  • Along with diet and exercise to improve blood sugar
  • To reduce the risk of major cardiovascular events such as heart attack, stroke or death with known heart disease

More than 35 million people in the United States live with type 2 diabetes.

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