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Celebrity hype leads to Ozempic shortage

Article-Celebrity hype leads to Ozempic shortage

Image via Canva Pro diabetic medication
The popularity of the drug for its weight loss properties is creating a gap in medical supply and demand for the wrong reasons.

Recently, a number of well-known personalities shared their journey of significant weight loss after taking Ozempic on social media platforms such as Instagram and TikTok. This sparked a worldwide interest in the drug, which led to an increase in popularity. However, medical experts advise consumers to consult their healthcare providers before using any medication for off-label purposes, as doing so can be dangerous and may lead to unintended side effects.  

“Studies have shown that patients who stop using Ozempic without the behaviour change journey gained more weight than they began with,” said Ali Hashemi, Co-Founder of meta[bolic] and Zone.Health. 

Celebrities have the potential to raise awareness about the medication and its benefits, leading to increased interest and demand from the public. While this surge in demand can positively impact production and logistics, it can also have negative consequences as seen in the case of Ozempic. 

According to Dr. Ahmed AK Hassoun, Consultant of Endocrinology at Fakeeh University Hospital, increased demand encourages pharmaceutical companies to invest in production and availability, leading to greater accessibility for those who need it. However, a sudden surge in demand, driven by celebrities and social media, can strain the supply chain leading to a potential imbalance between demand and supply for actual patients. This can be challenging for those who rely on the medication for medical purposes rather than just losing weight. 

Dr. Ahmed Hassoun

Dr. Ahmed AK Hassoun, Consultant of Endocrinology at Fakeeh University Hospital

Ozempic is a drug that has only been approved for the treatment of diabetes.  A version of the same molecule (semaglutide), re-branded as Wegovy, has been approved as a weight loss medication. “That said, the off-label use of Ozempic as an aide to a weight loss journey has been common for some time now, but only under the direct supervision of a physician,” explained Dr. Ihsan Al Marzooqi, Co-Founder of meta[bolic] and Zone.Health. 

The broad shortage of Ozempic seen currently, and GLP-1s in general, has been attributed to the misuse and self-administering of the drug by celebrities and social media influencers who are seeking rapid weight loss. This inappropriate off-label use of Ozempic has led to an unprecedented surge in demand among the general population, resulting in difficulties for diabetics accessing the medication. 

Can Ozempic be used safely as a weight loss drug? 

Ozempic (semaglutide) is a prescription drug meant for the management of Type 2 diabetes, but it has also been studied for its weight loss effect. Without proper medical consultation, taking Ozempic may lead to gastrointestinal symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and diarrhoea1. Furthermore, there are serious risks associated with off-label use ranging from pancreatitis to gallbladder and kidney problems2

“The only safe way to use Ozempic as a weight loss drug is to consult a doctor who will assess the different comorbidities that need to be considered,” said Dr. Hassoun. 

Ozempic’s effect on patients with pre-existing conditions 

Stopping the medication abruptly may lead to serious health implications for those using it to manage a health condition. It may cause the glucose in the body to spike, potentially putting the lives of those with uncontrolled diabetes at risk. 

“It is crucial for patients to communicate their requirements with their doctor and then make any changes to their regimen to avoid serious medical consequences,” Dr. Hassoun advised.           

The role of healthcare providers and regulators  

On the regulatory front, more could be done. According to Hashemi, pharmacists need to stop providing medications without prescriptions and prescribe dosages to patients that do not meet the eligibility criteria.  

Ali Hashemi & Ihsan Almarzooqi.jpg

Co-Founders Dr. Ihsan Al Marzooqi & Ali Hashemi of meta[bolic] and Zone.Health 

“Many physicians that prescribe Ozempic do not actively track their patient’s data, titrate correctly, or run necessary blood tests beforehand. Hence, both regulators and providers need to play an active role to address the shortage,” he said. 

Novo Nordisk, the manufacturer of Ozempic, is working on increasing the availability of the drug. As per a statement by the company, their 0.25 and 0.5 pens had the most supply disruptions “due to the combination of tremendous demand coupled with overall global supply limitations”.  

Consequently, various healthcare providers and pharmaceutical companies are looking to collaborate to seek the most effective solution to address the shortage. “The healthcare world may witness new partnerships, increased production, and recommendations for alternative medications,” said Dr. Hassoun. 

Alternative medications for patients unable to access Ozempic 

There are alternative medications available for patients who are unable to access Ozempic. As Ozempic belongs to a class of medications called GLP-1 receptor antagonists3, there are similar drugs in this class that can be used. Among these are Trulicity, Bydureon, Victoza, Mounjaro, and Wegovy4. Al Marzooqi said that it is important for patients to speak with healthcare providers to determine the best alternative treatment option for individual needs. 

“As far as pharmaceutical companies are concerned, they need to learn to diversify their supply chain and avoid dependency on one singular supplier that increases the vulnerability of shortage in the healthcare system. Patient education is also an essential factor when choosing alternative medication and creating a contingency plan,” said Dr. Hassoun. 

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