The Rise of Ozempic & Prescription Weight Loss Drugs

Ozempic is an injectable drug used to lower blood sugar in adults with type 2 diabetes and to lower the risk of heart disease. But over the past few months, Ozempic has been hailed as a “miracle drug” by celebrities, tech moguls, and social media influencers alike. In September 2022, an article from Variety described how Ozempic injections were used by celebrities across the industry to lose weight ahead of “major events”, with the most enthusiastic users being non-diabetic. Nevertheless, Ozmepic’s rise in popularity is not limited to Hollywood. As of today, TikTok videos with #ozempic have been viewed more than 637.6 million times and will likely continue to rise. While many videos feature prominent influencers on the app, dozens more feature ordinary users documenting their experience taking Ozempic with hashtags such as #ozempicjourney.

The recent popularity surge of Ozempic also coincides with the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) approval of another weight-loss drug known as Wegovy in 2021. Similar to Ozempic, Wegovy is a semaglutide injection intended to facilitate weight management in overweight or obese adults. By mimicking hormones that regulate food intake in the brain, Wegovy works as an appetite suppressor. The FDA’s approval of Wegovy resulted in higher demand for the drug and led many to seek out similar weight-loss prescriptions. The rising demand of these drugs led to a shortage of Ozempic in the United Kingdom in May 2022, followed by another shortage in the United States this past February. An article in Time magazine found that over five million prescriptions for Ozempic were written in 2022 alone, along with similar drugs. And in a study published by the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers found that adults with obesity but no diabetes had weight reductions of 5% or more after taking Ozempic for several weeks. 

Beyond its popularity on social media, Ozempic has also been known to have various side effects, including possible thyroid tumors, pancreatitis, kidney failure, and vision changes. One of the most documented side effects is referred to as “Ozempic face”, which can result in fat loss from the face and the appearance of sagging skin due to drastic weight loss. In addition, it is necessary to continue taking Ozempic indefinitely to maintain the weight loss. 

Currently, it is unclear how drugs such as Ozempic and Wegovy may affect people who are of normal weight or fall outside of the FDA’s criteria. While doctors have warned about the dangers of off-label use, the shortage of available prescriptions has made it more difficult for people with diabetes or obesity to have access to it. However, the rising popularity and recent shortages of Ozempic has led to a broader conversation on health and our relationship to food. In recent news, Weight Watchers has announced their acquisition of a telehealth company known as Sequence, which connects patients with doctors who can prescribe Ozempic and other drugs such as Wegovy and Rybelsus. Going forward, it may be useful to consider how the prescription of weight-loss drugs can be improved to provide affordable access for those with certain medical conditions and to educate the public on its effects. 

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