A social media weight-loss trend has contributed to a shortage of vital diabetes medication meaning those who live with the chronic condition are being forced to go without.
And although Ozempic can be “highly effective” in helping shed weight, there’s a myriad of issues associated with the sudden surge of off-label prescriptions, Christopher Nolan, Professor of Endocrinology at the ANU Medical School, told Yahoo News Australia.
The medication — made by Novo Nordisk — is approved in Australia for the treatment of type 2 diabetes, however, thousands of Aussies are using it to help shift some weight, according to various reports.
TikTok users, among others, have dubbed it a miracle weight-loss solution, with thousands of videos online detailing dramatic weight loss journeys using hastags like #ozempic, which has garnered 74 million views.
One user reportedly boasted she “went down a full dress size in three weeks without trying to diet”.
Another allegedly claimed “doctor can prescribe it. I had no issues getting it, and I’m not diabetic.”
‘Unexpected increase in consumer demand’
In a statement last month, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) attributed the shortage to an “unexpected increase in consumer demand” and encouraged pharmacists to limit the dispensing of Ozempic.
This decision left many diabetes sufferers without the life-changing treatment, which is “extremely anxiety-provoking” for them, Professor Nolan said.
“In Australia, the people that most need this medication are people with type 2 diabetes,” he told Yahoo News Australia
“Many patients were doing extremely well with it and had better diabetes control, so it’s a real shame the supply issue is cutting some of these people out from having continual supply.”
Dr Tin Fei Sim, Senior Lecturer at Curtin Medical School and President of the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia, agrees and said it could have a “detrimental health outcome” for some.
“The sudden surge in demand for this medicine for weight loss through social media has compounded the shortage issue, impacting timely access to Ozempic for people with diabetes who have been using this medicine,” she told Yahoo News Australia.
Finding Ozempic supplies ‘extremely hard’
Kerry, a diabetes sufferer from Ballarat, Victoria, started using Ozempic several months ago.
She said her body “adapted” to it quickly as she saw a significant change in her “diabetes numbers and weight”.
But now, like many, she’s struggled to find any in pharmacies and was forced to try Trulicity instead — another type of medication for type 2 diabetes — but it doesn’t have the same effect.
“The first couple of months l had no worries getting Ozempic, but now all the chemists in town are finding it extremely hard to get supplies,” she told Yahoo news Australia.
Warning against weight loss approach: ‘High risk’
Professor Nolan says that while Ozempic “may have a place for people with obesity,” it’s a different story for those who are “just a little overweight,” or those seeking to drop a few kilos.
For these people, there could be a higher risk in the short term.
“We worry a little about whether this type of medication can put people at risk of conditions like pancreatitis, inflammation of the pancreas, which is a really nasty condition,” Professor Nolan said.
“It doesn’t happen very often but there is some evidence it might increase that complication.”
However, those risks are outweighed by the benefits for those with diabetes, he said, with diabetes sufferers having more to gain from using the drug.
“In someone who has less to gain from it because they’re only a couple of kilograms overweight, or a little bit heavier than they think they should be, they don’t really need the drug for benefits it can offer treating type 2 diabetes,” he said.
Expert’s solution to the problem
Another issue Professor Nolan points out is that those without diabetes indications are getting the drug at a discounted price because of the pharmaceutical benefits schemes (PBS) reimbursement.
In Professor Nolan’s opinion, those who don’t have type 2 diabetes and are using it for weight loss “should be paying full cost” as the scheme is in place for those who really need it.
For the drug to be approved for weight loss in Australia, as it is by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the company has to apply and be approved by the TGA. Until then, Professor Nolan says it should be restricted.
“Until the supply issue is sorted, it should be prescribed for only people with type 2 diabetes as is approved by TGA and as is subsidised by the PBS,” he explained.
“For people who can’t get access to their medication, they go backwards in their diabetes control with higher blood sugars and their weight returning etc.
“Hopefully it’s only for a short period of time before it’s back on track. But you can imagine for the patients who were doing well, and now can’t get access to it, it is very anxiety provoking and a challenge for their doctors to try and tie them over in that period.”
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