Diabetes drug Ozempic is being prescribed for weight loss. Now the drug is in short supply.

A drug used to treat type 2 diabetes has popular Because of one of its side effects: weight loss.

Demand for semaglutide, the generic form of the branded drugs Ozempic, Wegovy and Rybelsus, has soared in the past year, according to doctors and the Danish pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk, which makes the drugs.and non-diabetic The quest for a slimmer waistline seems to be pushing some growing demand.

“A year ago, I didn't think there was that much interest. In the past six months, there has really been a huge increase in people asking about Ozempic and how it works and whether they're a candidate,” says Dr. Jennifer Levin, a plastic surgeon in New York City. told CBS MoneyWatch.

Dr. Gregory Dodell, an endocrinologist at Central Park's Division of Endocrinology, also said he's seen an increase in patient inquiries about Ozempic. He often prescribes the drug to patients with type 2 diabetes, but is hesitant to use it for weight loss.

“It works when people take it, but once people stop taking it, they regain two-thirds of their body weight, if not more, and sometimes the weight loss stalls, so people have to stop or keep going,” He said.

“We couldn't even get a sample”

So fast, in fact, that Novo Nordisk admitted it was experiencing “intermittent supply disruptions” of Ozempic.it is attributed to shortageit expects this to continue until mid-March, with “incredible demand combined with overall global supply constraints”.

According to the FDA, while 1 mg and 2 mg doses of Ozempic are currently available, ozone pens offering 0.25 mg and 0.5 mg doses are in short supply. The FDA also cited increased demand as the reason for the shortage.

In 2021, the FDA approved Wegovy — which contains a higher dose of semaglutide than other brands — for chronic weight management in obese adults. According to the FDA, it was in short supply a year ago but is now widely available. Novo Nordisk said in a statement that it had taken “significant steps” to ensure adequate supplies of the drug in the United States this year.

However, when Wegovy first became unavailable, many patients who relied on the drug for weight loss turned to Ozempic. This in turn limits the availability of diabetes drugs.

At one point last year, Dr. Dodell said, the shortage was so severe that he had to distribute samples of Ozempic to patients who couldn't get regular courses of the drug.

“It's horrible. It's terrible. Endocrinologists are banging their heads against the wall,” he said. “For a while, we couldn't even get a sample.”

Ozempic is FDA-approved for the treatment of type 2 diabetes, but not for chronic weight management. However, doctors can prescribe approved drugs for unapproved uses. When they do, it's called “off-label” use.

“While we recognize that some healthcare providers may prescribe Ozempic for patients with weight loss goals, Novo Nordisk does not advocate, recommend or encourage off-label use of our medicines,” the company told CBS MoneyWatch said in a statement.

Novo Nordisk's diabetes care sales jumped 56% in 2022, while its obesity care sales soared 101%. According to the company.

appetite suppressant

Ozempic is popular among people with type 2 diabetes because it is more effective and considered safer than treatments such as taking insulin. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 30 million, or one in 10, Americans have type 2 diabetes.

But Ozempic is also popular for its effect on patients' appetite.

“One of the unintended consequences of these drugs used to treat type 2 diabetes is that they also suppress appetite and slow bowel movements so you feel fuller,” said Dr. Said Ibrahim, senior vice president of Northwell Health's Medical Helpline, and his two colleagues. President of a leading hospital. “They send a signal to the brain that you're full, and that's the weight loss properties of these treatments, and that's what drives the demand, because everyone wants to lose weight.”

Ibrahim has also noticed more and more doctors are prescribing Ozempic for off-label uses, such as weight loss.

“It's not exactly just about losing weight — you really have to have comorbidities like high blood pressure — but some doctors are offering it to patients who can afford it, and that's why things are becoming more and more scarce, “He said.

social media hype

Typically, Ozempic is only covered by insurance companies when prescribed as directed for people with type 2 diabetes. In other words, patients who use it to lose excess weight must pay out of pocket. And the cost is high. Ozempic spends an average of $1,000 to $1,200 per month.

According to Ibrahim, one reason for the exorbitant price is that the off-label use of the drug is getting attention on social media. For example, Elon Musk recently tweeted about relying on drugs like Wegovy and Rybelsus (a semaglutide pill) to maintain a lean physique. When asked his secret to staying healthy, the billionaire owner of Twitter and CEO of Tesla replied that he relies on “fasting + Ozempic/Wegovy.”

Others on social media have complained that friends and loved ones with diabetes don't have access to the medications they rely on to regulate their condition.

“My husband can't get the Ozempic he needs to control his diabetes. There's a shortage due to prescriptions for weight loss pills. He needs it tomorrow and there's no one to get it,” one person tweeted.

“What's the story about Ozempic? I have a friend on twitter who can't find it and it's the only one that properly manages his diabetes. Can you guys help?” Another person posted this week tweets.

Ibrahim is concerned about fairness about who has access to Ozempic.

“There are a lot of people out there who aren't overweight and just want to lose a little weight,” he told CBS MoneyWatch. “While they can't get these drugs through insurance, they can afford to buy them, and that's part of the supply problem.”

Ibrahim also said doctors should exercise caution in deciding whom to prescribe the drug, which is key to maintaining adequate supplies.

“I don't think the idea of ​​companies just ramping up production is the right strategy right now because they make enough stuff for the right people,” he added.

He remains concerned about access to treatment for diabetics and obesity and the resulting inequities.

“A lot of these patients happen to live in socioeconomically disenfranchised communities, so for them, the lack of access to these very good medicines is a major national problem,” Ibrahim said. “We need to preempt step, and find ways to make sure this doesn't become another huge source of disparity in health care.”

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