BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) – Weekly weight loss injections like Ozempic and Wegovy have taken the country by storm thanks to trends on social and mainstream media. Now, the pharmaceutical company behind the medications is sounding the alarm on providers for prescribing the drugs irresponsibly.
“When I look around this room, I can’t help but wonder, ‘Is Ozempic right for me?’” joked Jimmy Kimmel in his 2023 Oscar monologue.
“Comedians talk about it, joke about how everyone in Hollywood is on this medication,” said Matthew Gilbert, an endocrinology professor at the University of Vermont Larner College of Medicine. He regularly prescribes Ozempic to patients with type 2 diabetes. The injection is FDA-approved to improve blood sugar levels and reduce the risk of major cardiovascular events.
Novo Nordisk manufactures both Ozempic and Wegovy, a weight management injection specifically designed for obese patients with a body mass index greater than 30. It’s a modified version of semaglutide, a hormone naturally made in the human body that is the primary ingredient in both.
One effect of semaglutide is appetite suppression. “What unfortunately we saw was a rise in the use of these medications, either Wegovy or off-label use of Ozempic for cosmetic or aesthetic weight loss,” Gilbert said. He says that’s what spurred a global shortage of the drug eight to 12 months ago.
The growing trend in prescribing practices across the country is raising ethical questions in the medical community and prompting warnings from Novo Nordisk.
Company officials say they are concerned about off-label semaglutide prescriptions, unauthorized/unregulated versions of the drug being sold on the market, and some telehealth providers — or so-called health spas or resorts — unlawfully promoting the products for purely cosmetic weight loss. None of their medications, the company says, should be used for the latter.
“This is not a drug I would recommend for people in their mid-20s who are looking to drop a few pounds before a wedding. It’s not socially responsible, it’s not economically responsible,” Gilbert said. He stresses that aggressive and dramatic weight loss in a person who doesn’t need it can lead to gall bladder problems, nutrient or electrolyte deficiencies, and lean muscle mass loss. Not to mention that insurance doesn’t cover the drugs for aesthetic purposes and the price tag is between $900 to $1,000 out-of-pocket per month.
“The preference for thinness in our culture has been prominent for decades, correlated with pressure to diet and engaging in unsafe diet practices,” said Nancy Silberg, a clinical psychologist with the UVM Medical Center who determines whether a patient is a good candidate for the weight loss procedures like bariatric surgery. She says in the age of digital consumption and celebrity adoration, the craving to meet beauty standards is intense. She says developing an active lifestyle and balanced diet in conjunction with responsible medication use is the best recipe for safe and healthy weight management. “Prescribing that medication needs to be done with informed consent, good education. People need to understand what the pros and cons are.
Gilbert and Silberg emphasize that medications are widely revered and considered game changers for obese or diabetic patients but that you should always consult a trusted provider if you’re interested in exploring your options.
Novo Nordisk officials say the company this year is filing for regulatory approval of both oral semaglutide tablets for type 2 diabetes and for weight management.
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