Ozempic, a drug used to treat Type 2 diabetes, is extremely hard to find in the U.S., after some celebrities and social media influencers touted it as a weight loss solution.
The drug, also known as semaglutide, was approved in 2017 by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), mainly to treat diabetes but it also showed weight loss results. Both Ozempic and Wegovy, another semaglutide medication produced by drug manufacturer Novo Nordisk, were also subsequently approved by Health Canada.
In recent months prominent figures like Elon Musk have said they use the semaglutide medications for weight loss.
But while the FDA has reported an Ozempic shortage in the U.S., the Drug Shortages Canada website has not reported any shortages here.
“We are working hard to ensure global shortages do not impact Canadians living with diabetes taking Ozempic,” Novo Nordisk Canada Inc., wrote in an email to CTVNews.ca. The company said the global shortage is a combination of “unprecedented demand and temporary capacity limitations” at some of its manufacturing sites.
Ozempic is injected into the stomach, thigh or arm once a week by Type 2 diabetics. The drug works to stimulate the body’s own insulin production and reduce appetite.
Dr. Janice Hwang, chief of division of endocrinology and metabolism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, told CTV News’ Your Morning on Tuesday that, in some cases, the drug can also be approved for weight loss.
“I think it’s very dangerous because there are patients who have diabetes, who these medications work very, very well (for) and there’s a worldwide shortage of these meds,” Hwang said. “This is not a quick fix for someone looking to shed a few pounds during the holiday season.”
Hwang said the drug has a number of side effects, including nausea, vomiting and gastrointestinal upset.
“There are also more serious side effects that are a lot rarer, but are some things to think about pancreatitis, allergic reactions, things like that,” she said.
Ozempic is expensive in the U.S. for those without insurance coverage, costing US $892 for a monthly supply. In Canada, it is covered under many private insurance plans and some provincial drug programs.
“Cost to the patient will differ depending on available coverage and cost at the pharmacy,” Novo Nordisk told CTVNews.ca in an email.
Wegovy, with a higher dose of semaglutide , costs people about US $1,300 for a 28-day supply and was approved by the FDA in 2021 to treat obesity. The Canadian Journal of Health Technologies says the yearly cost of the drug in Canada is approximately $4,726.
Despite its popularization, Hwang said the drug is not meant as a lifelong weight loss solution.
“Most of the time, the weight will come back,” she said.
— Eva McMillan ♥️ (@EvasTeslaSPlaid) October 1, 2022
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) October 2, 2022