A social media trend has led to people sharing their experiences using a type 2 diabetes drug for weight loss — and now there’s a shortage in Australia.
Ozempic (semaglutide) is an injectable prescription medicine for adults with type 2 diabetes used along with diet and exercise to improve blood sugar, the company says. It states on its website that using it may lead to weight loss, although that is not its intended use. But a new trend on TikTok is doing just that.
Social media users are posting about the drug, using hashtags like #ozempicjourney or #ozempicchallenge. The videos under those hashtags have amassed millions of views. Some are saying this is the only method that has worked for them to lose weight.
The Department of Health in Australia issued a statement in late May, saying there was a shortage caused by an increase in consumer demand “due to extensive prescribing for obesity management.” They urged doctors to limit prescriptions to those who need the drug for medical purposes.
The side effects for people who rely on Ozempic and have had to go without it are serious, one woman told Australian news site news.com.au.
“Because Ozempic changes the way you digest food, when you suddenly have a withdrawal from it your body has to snap back to what it was before,” said Ashleigh Rae, who has type 2 diabetes. “That’s not been a pleasant process. You have a lot of digestive discomfort. For me, it’s quite extreme.”
Without it, she said her diabetes has been hard to manage.
It is not illegal for doctors in Australia to prescribe the drug for weight loss, said president of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia Trent Twomey on the 2GB radio show, but it is “a bit immoral.”
“This drug, it mimics a hormone in our body called GLP1 or Glucagon-like peptide 1 and what that hormone is responsible for is suppressing appetite,” he said. “You have to have a certain BMI to be able to be eligible.”
Some people are getting prescriptions without even seeing a doctor in person, he said, by filling out questionnaires online and getting the prescription emailed to them.
Ozempic was approved in Canada in 2018 for adults with type 2 diabetes.
A similar drug called Wegovy — made by the same company, Novo Nordisk — was approved by Health Canada for adults with obesity in 2021. It is set to be commercially available in fall 2022.
One Canadian TikToker posted about her weight loss journey on Ozempic, saying it costs about $200 a month.
“It’s taken about 6 months to lose 30lbs with very little changes to my diet and light exercise,” she wrote under the post.
A woman in the United States told the New York Post that she resorted to using Ozempic after she gained weight during the pandemic.
“I wanted to lose 10 pounds — and I wound up losing 19,” said Beth Rubin, adding that it wasn’t without complications.
She said she had to push herself to eat because she didn’t feel like it at first, and food didn’t taste as good. When she ate too much, she would feel sick.
Founder of Concierge MD Dr. Abe Malkin told the New York Post he has seen people pay $1,300 a month for Wegovy.
As well as the hefty price tag in the U.S., the weight can also be gained back when people stop using it, Novo Nordisk’s Jason Brett told Chemical & Engineering News.
Rae said it was “frustrating” to see people using Ozempic as a weight loss drug.
“Taking it because you want to lose a little bit of weight like a couple of kilos,” she said, “versus people who actually really need it for serious weight issues and diabetes is very different.”