Ozempic, a prescription medication to treat Type 2 diabetes, is getting lots of attention for one of its side effects: weight loss.
It’s become a sensation on social media, with the topic “Ozempic” garnering over 300 million views on TikTok. Many people who don’t have diabetes are using it off-label — the practice of taking an approved drug for unapproved use — and crediting it for their weight-loss success.
Since Ozempic has gone viral, some doctors have been flooded with inquiries.
“It’s become something very hot and heavy in Los Angeles, Beverly Hills,” said Dr. Nancy Rahnama, an internist and obesity medicine specialist in Beverly Hills, California.
That’s creating problems for diabetics who are having a hard time getting the prescriptions they need.
Novo Nordisk, the maker of Ozempic, says increased demand for the drug and supply chain issues have impacted supplies. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration lists the medication as “currently in shortage” on its website.
Ozempic is the brand name for semaglutide, a medicine for adults with Type 2 diabetes that patients self-inject under their skin. It’s in a class of drugs called GLP-1 receptor agonists and works by mimicking a natural hormone the body releases when a person eats food.
“It regulates your blood sugar, but it also targets that area in the brain that sends the signal of feeling full or not, so it’s definitely helpful for weight loss,” said NBC News medical contributor Dr. Natalie Azar.
Ozempic’s sister drug, Wegovy, which has been approved for weight loss in people with obesity by the FDA, also contains semaglutide, though the injector pens are slightly different and come in different doses. It, too, is listed as “currently in shortage” by the FDA.
Novo Nordisk, which also makes Wegovy, has asked doctors to not start new patients on the drug following “unprecedented product demand and short-term manufacturing issues,” it noted on its website. The company expects to make all dose strengths of Wegovy available in the U.S. towards the end of the year.
While the average weight loss with Ozempic is 14 pounds, it’s higher with Wegovy — about 15% of a patient’s body weight, Azar said. “For people who need this medically-managed weight loss, it’s a wonderful tool in the toolbox. But the shortages are real — partially supply, but how much of this is playing into it?” she wondered.
Although Wegovy and Ozempic contain the same active ingredient, Novo Nordisk says they are not interchangeable. “We do not promote, suggest or encourage off-label use of our medicines,” the company said in a statement.
However, the FDA told NBC News that health care professionals can choose to prescribe drugs off-label when “medically appropriate.”
Is it safe?
YouTube user Ana McKenna, who has documented her 45-pound weight loss journey with Ozempic, told TODAY it has been her “easiest weight-loss attempt and my most successful.” But she also agreed it wasn’t a magic pill, noting side effects such as headaches and fatigue.
Other side effects of Ozempic include nausea, vomiting, pancreatitis and kidney failure, Azar cautioned. “It can potentially harm you,” she said.
Ozempic can cost about $900 dollars a month, according to the drug maker’s website. For off-label use, that usually would not be covered by insurance.
The medication has to be taken indefinitely — people have to stay on it for it to keep working, otherwise they can potentially regain the weight they’ve lost or even more, Azar noted. The drug is not necessarily something that can reset a person for life, she added.
The big issue is: How are people who don’t have diabetes or obesity getting this drug? Obviously, some people are obtaining prescriptions inappropriately, Azar pointed out.
“(Doctors) do prescribe medications off-label, but there has to be shared decision-making and the patient has to understand that potential risks can happen. It’s at the discretion of the provider,” she said.