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Diabetic Drug Ozempic in Short Supply Due to its Popularity as a Weight Loss Wonder

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Edited by: TJVNews.com

A drug used to treat Type 2 diabetes has become wildly popular due to one of its side effects: weight loss, according to a report on Wednesday on the CBSNews.com web site.

Demand for semaglutide, the generic form of brand name drugs Ozempic, Wegovy and Rybelsus, has soared over the past year, according to physicians and to Denmark’s Novo Nordisk, the pharmaceutical company that makes the drugs. CBSNews.com also reported that non-diabetic patients seeking slimmer waistlines appear to be driving some of the growing demand.

“A year ago I didn’t feel like there was as much interest. In the past six months, people asking about Ozempic and how it works and if they’re a candidate has really increased a lot,” New York plastic surgeon Dr. Jennifer Levine told CBS MoneyWatch.

Endocrinologist Dr. Gregory Dodell, of Central Park Endocrinology, also said he has seen an increase in inquiries from patients about Ozempic, according to the CBSNews.com web site. He regularly prescribes it to patients with Type 2 diabetes, but is hesitant about using it for weight loss.

Back in January of this year, Dennis Thompson of the HealthDay News web site reported that Twitter owner Elon Musk swears by the weight-loss drug Wegovy, and Kim Kardashian is rumored to have used it to shed 16 pounds in three weeks to squeeze into a vintage gown once worn by Marylin Monroe.

But the intense public demand for Wegovy has triggered a shortage of the diabetes version of the injectable medication. That’s leaving patients with the blood sugar disease in a real bind in terms of filling their prescriptions for Ozempic.

Ozempic has been on the market since 2017 to help manage type 2 diabetes. But in June 2021, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved semaglutide to treat weight loss under the brand name Wegovy.

Ever since Wegovy arrived on the market, Novo Nordisk has struggled to meet demand, experts said, according to the article on the HealthDay News web site.

Unfortunately, people who want to drop pounds and can’t find Wegovy are getting doctors to write them off-label prescriptions for Ozempic, eating into supplies of a drug that’s vital in the treatment of diabetes, the report indicated.

“We’ve heard reports of people really struggling to fill their prescriptions,” said Dr. Robert Gabbay, chief science and medical officer for the American Diabetes Association, HealthDay News reported. “I still see patients at the Joslin Diabetes Center, and I can tell you that some of my patients have said, oh, yeah, you know, I had to go to lots of different pharmacies to finally find it. It’s been a problem.”

Semaglutide is a synthetic form of a naturally occurring gut hormone, explained Dr. Caroline Apovian, past president of the Obesity Society and an adjunct professor at Boston University’s School of Medicine, HealthDay News reported.

The drug helps the body make more insulin, which lowers blood sugar levels for people with diabetes, Gabbay and Apovian said.

But in early trials, the drug also showed potential as a weight-loss medication. HealthDay News reported that Semaglutide slows down the emptying of the stomach, so people feel full faster and tend to eat less, Gabbay said.

There’s also some evidence that the drug works on the brain to lower appetite, Gabbay and Apovian said.

“Wegovy has been shown to promote up to 15% to 20% weight loss, so it’s pretty significant,” Apovian said, as was reported by HealthDay News. “It created quite a stir because, until recently, it was the drug that had the most efficacy for weight loss.”

Both Wegovy and Ozempic are now listed as in short supply on the FDA’s drug shortage website.

There are other drugs in the same class that diabetics can use, but switching is not a simple proposition, Gabbay said.

“Because it’s a long-acting drug, you take it once a week to build up the … levels in the body. To be effective, you’ve got to be on it for a while. If you were to switch, you sort of have to start building up again,” Gabbay said, as was reported in January by HealthDay News. “It could take a couple, three months to get to where they were, in which case they’ve lost a lot of time and effectiveness.”

The drug’s main side effect is nausea and vomiting, particularly after the patient has eaten too much, Gabbay and Apovian said.

HealthDay News also reported that to avoid this side effect, people start both Wegovy and Ozempic at low doses, which are gradually increased, the experts said.

For either weight loss or obesity, patients receive one injection of semaglutide once a week.

Novo Nordisk had promised that its supply problems should be sorted out by January, with all doses of Wegovy available at pharmacies around the United States, Apovian said, but it is now mid-February and the shortage problem still exists.

In a statement issued in January, Novo Nordisk said that 1 and 2 milligram (mg) doses of Ozempic should be available, but intermittent supply disruptions have affected the availability of 0.25 mg and 0.5 mg Ozempic “pens.”

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