It is generally a worrisome sign any time a medication gets labeled a “wonder” drug. That seems to be what’s happening with Ozempic (semaglutide), a prescription drug approved to treat diabetes whose reputation has gone viral through social media to mainstream buzz.
Originally developed to treat type 2 diabetes, this weekly injectable drug also comes with a side effect: weight loss. And while it may have been used off-label here and there, more and more celebrities began to talk about it earlier this year.
Influencers and Hollywood figures revealed that they have been using Ozempic for weight loss. Jimmy Kimmel made jokes about it at the 2023 Academy Awards. But when so many people seek out a wonder drug for off-label use, it has its own side effects – namely, scarcity for those who really need it.
A recent survey conducted by Tebra, a leading cloud-based healthcare technology platform, asked 1000 Americans (including health care proffeionals) their thoughts on Ozempic, ranging from whether they have used it to what impact it has had on their lives. Here are 3 key takeaways from the survey.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), nearly 41% of American adults are living with obesity. It shouldn’t be a surprise then that 22% of respondents to the survey have asked their doctor to prescribe Ozempic for weight loss, 15% have used Ozempic for weight loss, and 47% know someone who has.
To put that in perspective, the most-prescribed medication in the US is they antihypertensive agent lisinopril. As of 2020, about 19.8 million Americans took lisinopril — approximately 6% of the US population.
A key difference here is that lisinopril is inexpensive and often covered by insurance. Ozempic is not approved by the FDA for weight loss and isn’t typically covered by insurance. The costs for Ozempic are high, nearly $1,000 for a prefilled pen, which may be why 70% of respondents say they can’t afford to take Ozempic for weight loss.
Meanwhile, 42% of medical practitioners said that patients without diabetes have asked them to prescribe them Ozempic, and 18% have done so. Of those who have been asked and have refused to prescribe it, 38% of them have received backlash.
Medical practitioners aren’t just on the prescribing end either; 14% of provider respondents say they have personally used Ozempic for weight loss.
When a drug becomes popular for off-label use, shortages can occur that impact people who are using the medication as intended. For example, when hydroxychloroquine was touted in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic as a potential treatment, shortages resulted, making it difficult for patients who were using the medication as intended for conditions like lupus and arthritis.
This is happening now, as 52% of Americans with diabetes say they’ve had trouble getting medication for type 2 diabetes — and not just Ozempic. The interest in Ozempic has spurred interest in other similar diabetes medications, such as Mounjaro (tirzepatide) and Trulicity (dulaglutide), in the hopes of a similar side effect.
In addition to the supply challenges and Ozempic becoming more difficult to obtain for people with diabetes, medical practitioners raised another major concern: misuse of the medication. Of provider respondents to Tebra’s survey, 76% are concerned about misuse. Ozempic and similar viral drugs are being sold online, cutting primary care providers out of the loop, and raising the risk of side effects or interactions with other medications.
Medical practitioners are divided on the issue of whether health insurance should cover Ozempic for weight loss. Almost half of respondents, 49%, believe that health insurance should cover the drug for weight loss, while 51% believe that it should not.
This division among providers reflects the lack of consensus and guidelines on the use of Ozempic for off-label purposes. While some health care professionals may see the potential benefits of using the drug for weight loss, others may be concerned about its high cost, side effects, and lack of FDA approval. This divide highlights the need for more research and guidance on the use of Ozempic and other medications to ensure that patients are receiving safe and effective treatments.
All in all, the Ozempic conversation highlights the crucial role of primary care physicians and medical oversight in managing medications. It also underscores the importance of health care professionals in properly educating patients about medication use and potential risks. While the hype around Ozempic may fade, the importance of primary care and medical oversight in managing medications remains constant.