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How Hollywood’s obsession with weight loss triggered a worldwide diabetes drug shortage


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How Hollywood’s obsession with weight loss triggered a worldwide diabetes drug shortage

Internet influencers and celebrities are endorsing Ozempic as a ‘wonder’ weight-loss hack. For diabetics across the world, this ‘miracle’ drug keeps them alive. 

Produced by the Danish company Novo Nordisk, Ozempic is an injectable drug that regulates blood sugar levels and insulin. It’s usually prescribed to adults suffering from Type 2 diabetes, the most common type of diabetes. The drug’s active ingredient, Semaglutide lowers blood sugar levels and regulates insulin. It also mimics a hormone called glucagon that targets areas of the brain that regulate appetite and food. Basically, the drug tricks users into thinking they’re full, causing them to lose weight faster.

In 2021, the FDA approved another drug called ‘Wegovy’, with a higher dose of Semaglutide to treat obesity. That drug became immediately popular, and very quickly led to a shortage. With a severe lack of Wegovy, people then turned to Ozempic for their diet-specific needs. And it looks like diabetic people are now paying the price for it.

In September 2022, Variety reported that actors and producers “are quietly singing the drug’s praises” on Signal, an encrypted messaging app. On TikTok, the hashtag #Ozempic has over 273 million views, with people alternately expressing shock over their supposed medication-induced weight loss and swapping stories about side effects. On Facebook, groups dedicated to the use of Ozempic for weight loss have tens of thousands of followers.

Without this medication, people with Type 2 diabetes risk blood sugar spikes that can potentially lead to serious health problems, including heart disease, kidney disease, hearing loss and stroke. The medication can also reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease for people with diabetes, according to The New York Times. 

Even though Ozempic is not officially prescribed as a weight-loss drug, people are somehow accessing it off-label. This could likely have extreme repercussions in the future, apart from the shortage, as more and more doctors warn that this is not the ‘miracle’ drug that some are making it out to be. To begin with, the drug has only been on the market since 2017, so we don’t know its long-term effects. It has also not been tested for its effects on people without diabetes or obesity. We don’t have enough evidence to determine how this drug will affect these people in 10 years.

The instructions for Ozempic published by the European Medicines Agency state that nausea, diarrhoea and hypoglycaemia are “very common” side effects. Like all medicines, Ozempic also has contraindications that a doctor should take into account when prescribing it. For patients with diabetes, switching back and forth between medicines is also tedious, and sometimes dangerous.

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And then there’s the concern that it may trigger eating disorders and perpetuate toxic body image on the internet. Ozempic is an increasingly expensive drug and is meant to be taken once every week. Its weight-loss benefits aren’t permanent, and you would have to take it consistently to see results. Its sudden popularity on TikTok and Instagram seems like a potential disaster waiting to happen.

Governments across the world, especially in countries where there is a severe shortage, have called on health professionals to avoid initiating new prescriptions of Ozempic and, when treating patients with obesity, to consider alternatives to Semaglutide “until supply stabilises”. But will this be enough to stop the rampant misuse of the drug? 

The hype surrounding Semaglutide is not dying anytime soon, and celebrity culture has clearly played a big part in this. Those in more privileged positions- celebrities, influencers and rich CEOs will get their hands on it one way or another. And once they’ve exhausted their supply, they’ll move on to another trend to stay relevant. But for the regular joe, this isn’t as easy. And there are still many side effects and withdrawal symptoms we haven’t considered yet.

The Ozempic-craze is only the newest addition to a never-ending and toxic body-shaming culture. As long as we allow toxic body standards to persist, simply government policies won’t help fix this crisis.

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