TikTok videos on use of diabetes drug for weight loss worry doctors

PARIS — Diabetes drug Ozempic has become a social media phenomenon for its weight-loss properties, but its soaring popularity has led to a global shortage and doctors have warned of potential side effects.

Videos under the hashtag #Ozempic have nearly 600 million views on TikTok, with many users regularly updating followers on their weight loss.

Thanks to Ozempic, “losing 40kg in less than three months is possible,” said a French TikToker in a typical post in December, which has nearly 50,000 views.

“It's a miracle,” he added.

The injectable drug from the Danish pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk was originally developed and approved in many countries for the treatment of type 2 diabetes.

The drug's active ingredient, semaglutide, binds to receptors for the hormone that controls blood sugar, stimulating the release of insulin when blood sugar levels are high.

It slows down the rate at which food leaves a person's stomach, thereby reducing their appetite.

In early 2021, peer-reviewed studies found that nearly three-quarters of people who took the drug lost more than 10% of their body weight.

Since then, Novo Nordisk has developed a higher-dose semaglutide drug called Wegovy, specifically for the treatment of obesity, which was approved for use in the United States in 2021 and in Europe and the United Kingdom last year.

Wegovy is not yet available in the UK, France or several other countries, but Ozempic is available by regular prescription.

“Not a miracle drug”

This has led to an increase in non-diabetic patients getting prescriptions for Ozempic and “fake prescriptions,” said professor Jean-Luc Faillie, an expert in pharmacology at the University of Montpellier in France.

Douglas Twenefour, head of care at Diabetes UK, said on the charity's website that Ozempic “is not a medicine for people who do not have diabetes or are at risk of developing type 2 diabetes”.

French medicines regulator ANSM has urged doctors to prescribe Ozempic only for diabetes.

“There has been no particular sudden increase in consumption in recent months,” ANSM said, adding that there had been “supply tightness” globally.

Novo Nordisk told AFP that “stronger-than-anticipated demand” for Ozempic had led to “intermittent supplies and period stock-outs” globally.

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