In February 2021, The New Daily reported on a new drug labelled a “game changer” in the management of obesity – and for once, a large, gold-standard clinical trial backed up the hype.
A single weekly injection of the drug semaglutide, for 68 weeks, saw an average loss of 15 per cent body weight in trial participants.
More than a third of the participants who took the drug lost more than 20 per cent of their weight.
On the Australian scene, the drug was approved as a treatment for type 2 diabetes for patients who couldn’t tolerate or gained no benefit from the standard medication, metformin.
As we reported, some bariatric surgeons were using semaglutide to help patients lose enough weight to safely undergo surgery.
Big and interesting news, right? Then the story went quiet.
Now there’s a shortage
In Australia, semaglutide is marketed under the brand name Ozempic. The drug isn’t taken as a pill or liquid, but as an epi-pen for type 2 diabetics who need to lose weight and lower their blood sugar.
It’s often delivered in the abdomen or thigh.
Two weeks ago, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) quietly issued a statement, directed at GPs, urging them to stop prescribing the drug for obesity management.
The drug is such a hit with people desperate to lose weight that there’s now a shortage “significantly affecting people using Ozempic for its approved use of type 2 diabetes”.
The TGA statement, issued in collaboration with nine peak medical bodies, including the AMA, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners and the Australian diabetes Society, advised:
“The increased demand is due to extensive prescribing for obesity management, for which Ozempic is not indicated … Limiting prescribing of semaglutide to people with type 2 diabetes is essential.”
The story might have remained relatively low-key, but this week it broke into the open with reports in The Guardian and Australian Doctor, which both blamed TikTok for the drug shortage.
#ozempic … 74 million views and counting
People aren’t simply documenting their weight loss journey, they’re injecting themselves with a kind of giddy Pulp Fiction cool.
A typical TikTok user is @taylor_gracve96, who documents her “first time injecting Ozempic” with the requisite fiddly preparation of the pen and lifting of her T-shirt, the squeezing of the abdomen, the pressing in the pointy bit, and using her thumb to drive the plunger and deliver the dose.
But it might be @taylor_grace96’s last jab for a while.
The TGA has warned that pharmacists may need to refuse prescriptions for people who have been prescribed semaglutide for a condition other than diabetes.
“People requesting a semaglutide prescription for obesity management should be advised of alternative treatment options, as people using Ozempic for the registered indication of type 2 diabetes are being prioritised,” the TGA said.
According to Australian Doctor, GPs have been advised to contact their diabetes patients and tell them about the shortage. These patients will need to “contact their pharmacy as soon as possible to ensure scripts are filled”.
With TikTokers left in the lurch, expect to see a rush on sad-faced emojis.