Type 2 diabetes drug Ozempic is available again, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration drug shortage database. This follows the massive Ozempic shortage, which was spurred by the drug’s side effect of weight loss.
Ozempic is a brand of semaglutide, a medication that helps the pancreas release the right amount of insulin. While people are now using Ozempic for weight loss it was originally intended for people with diabetes because it lowers blood sugar levels, helping the body release its own insulin.
With individuals losing up to 15% of their body weight from the semaglutide injectable, Ozempic has been hailed as a “medical breakthrough” for its contribution to weight loss. Speculation of celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Mindy Kaling using Ozempic to lose weight, as well as the term “post-Ozempic body” trending on social media, have fueled the demand for the drug.
“Ozempic has also been used by celebrities and has become increasingly present in the media over the past year,” Chelsea Yost (20MR), an obesity medicine specialist and assistant professor of general surgery and general internal medicine for Emory Healthcare, wrote in an email to the Wheel. “Additionally, there have been several landmark articles over the past few years, outlining the benefits of Ozempic from a weight loss perspective.”
Ozempic acts on the hypothalamus, which contains satisfaction centers in the brain to control how hungry an individual feels, Lawrence Phillips, a professor of medicine in the Division of Endocrinology at the Emory University School of Medicine, explained.
According to Yost, Ozempic stimulates the GLP-1 receptor, which increases insulin and decreases glucagon, a hormone that increases blood sugar levels. This helps manage Type 2 diabetes and slows gastric emptying, mimicking the sensation of feeling full and encouraging weight loss.
Ozempic is not the only injectable medication that results in weight loss. Wegovy is a higher dose form of Ozempic that is designed as a weight loss treatment, Phillips said. Some public figures, such as Elon Musk, have attributed their weight loss transformations to taking Wegovy.
Mounjaro is another non-insulin injectable that is used to treat Type 2 diabetes, although the drug has not been approved for only treating obesity. Phillips noted that Mounjaro, which is not a brand of semaglutide, is more potent than Ozempic.
“These drugs can produce close to the same amount of weight loss that you can get with bariatric surgery, such as a gastric bypass or gastric sleeve,” Phillips said.
Yost noted that individuals without diabetes can also be eligible for Ozempic if they are overweight, have known cardiovascular disease or have at least two risk factors for cardiovascular disease.
Ozempic has potentially harmful side effects, such as an increased risk for developing pancreatitis and medullary thyroid cancer, especially if misused, according to Yost.
Long-term weight loss is not guaranteed when using Ozempic. Phillips stated that along with taking Ozempic, patients are expected to make the appropriate lifestyle and dietary changes to sustain their weight loss. With Ozempic costing approximately $1,400 out-of-pocket per month without insurance, many individuals who can no longer afford to take the medication for weight loss gain back most of their weight within a year of stopping.
“They have to keep taking it,” Phillips said. “The primary problem in weight gain is inability to burn off calories that are consumed.”
However, using Ozempic for cosmetic weight loss has much greater implications than being a social media trend, Phillips said. The growing number of non-diabetics using Ozempic for weight loss has led to a shortage of the drug, leaving hospitals and pharmacies struggling to get the diabetic medication.
While Yost noted that the short supply of Ozempic has made it difficult for her to prescribe the medication to her patients, there is currently no priority given to diabetics.
“The question is, in a free society should we give any priority to the availability of these drugs for people with diabetes as opposed to people with weight loss?” Phillips said.
Science & Research Desk | Julia Laszcz (she/her 24C) is from Bergen County, New Jersey, majoring in neuroscience and behavioral biology and English. Outside of the Wheel, Laszcz is a writer for Grey Matters. Laszcz also is a volunteer for her town’s ambulance corp. She likes to cook new recipes and play with her dog.