The wealthy are hoarding Ozempic, making the drug harder to access for people with diabetes

The latest weight loss fad in Hollywood isn’t a brand name diet, it’s a drug called Ozempic. Commonly marketed as a diabetes drug, Ozempic, which is also sold under the brand name Wegovy, is officially known as semaglutide. Celebrities and the wealthy rave about the drug, including Tesla and Twitter CEO Elon Musk, who credits the drug for his weight loss.

“Everybody’s on Ozempic,” comedian Chelsea Handler said in January. “My anti-aging doctor gives it to anyone.” Recounting her own experience with the drug, Handler claimed she “didn’t even know” she was taking it.

Handler’s comments imply that Ozempic is readily available to anyone who wants it, but that’s not exactly the case. Indeed, as buzz grows about the drug’s weight loss potential, reports have surfaced that the drug has become increasingly difficult to access, especially for people with type 2 diabetes. who take it for its originally intended use. As the Houston Chronicle recently reported, patients with type 2 diabetes are having trouble refilling prescriptions, a situation that endocrinologists have called a “headache.”

“I see this every week, all the time,” Dr. Jill Crandall, chief of the division of endocrinology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine/Montefiore Health System, told Salon in an interview. “The patients I treat are people who have been on these drugs for a long time, and they are out of them.”

Danish biotech giant Novo Nordisk, which makes the drug, said the company was experiencing “intermittent supply disruptions of the Ozempic pen” in the United States. They expect these shortages to continue until mid-March. Specifically, they are experiencing a shortage of the Ozempic pen which delivers 0.25mg and 0.5mg doses – not the drug itself. To manage type 2 diabetes, a patient typically takes the injection once a week in the arm, stomach, or thigh.

Want more health and science stories in your inbox? Subscribe to Salon The Vulgar Scientist’s weekly newsletter.

“As the product continues to be manufactured and shipped, patients in some areas of the country will experience delays with these doses,” Novo Nordisk told Salon in an emailed statement. “While we recognize that some healthcare providers may prescribe Ozempic® to patients whose goal is to lose weight, Novo Nordisk does not promote, suggest or encourage the misuse of our medications and s is committed to fully complying with all applicable U.S. laws and regulations in promoting our products.”

“The patients I treat are people who have been on these drugs for a long time, and they are out of them.”

When asked why the company was experiencing supply disruptions, the company said it was “due to the combination of incredible demand coupled with overall global supply constraints.”

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there were 422 million people with diabetes in 2014, nearly four times the 108 million people diagnosed with the disease in 1980. Type 1 diabetes occurs when the pancreas produces little or no insulin. Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body resists or does not produce enough insulin, which is the hormone that controls the level of glucose in the body. There are conflicting theories as to whether type 2 can be reversed, as Salon has previously reported, although it is well established that it can be managed through diet and exercise. Overall, diabetes remains a leading cause of heart attacks, kidney failure, strokes, blindness and lower limb amputation.

Ozempic was first approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2017 for type 2 diabetes. A new formulation, Wegovy, was approved in 2021 for obesity.

As previously reported for Salon, semaglutide may help fight obesity and diabetes because it acts on GLP-1 receptors, which control blood sugar. Dr. Ahmet Ergin, founder and entrepreneur of SugarMD, told Salon that Ozempic works like a “gastrointestinal hormone mimic,” creating the hormones that signal appetite or fullness. “Then it alerts the pancreas to let it know there is food that needs to be processed and insulin is needed,” Ergin said. “With type 2 diabetics on most insulin resistant obese patients, that mechanism is broken and they resist the effect of that hormone not that they don’t have it – it’s just that that hormone no longer works.”

Ozempic helps the body overcome this resistance. If a person can’t refill their prescription, Ergin said a person’s blood sugar can rise. He clarified that Ozempic does not replace insulin and therefore patients do not become dependent on it; on the contrary, if they can’t refill their prescription, “their sugar levels go up and they gain weight again, so they’re not happy about it, but the doctors usually try to find an alternative.”

Dr. Crandall, of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, told Salon that she tries to prescribe alternatives, but those are not generally available at this time as well.

“Every time we have to change prescriptions and try a different, possibly similar drug, it often triggers a whole series of pre-authorization requests and calling the insurance company, giving them data and filling out forms” , Crandall said. “And that comes at a cost to the healthcare system.”

“These drugs are incredibly expensive, whether used for obesity or for diabetes.”

Crandall pointed out that treating obesity with semaglutide is an important use of the drug. She thinks it’s important to differentiate between the demand for drugs to treat clinical obesity and the demand for those who use it for cosmetic purposes. If a patient with type 2 diabetes is unable to refill their prescription, the situation is not quite “as acute and critical” as when a person cannot refill their insulin prescription, which has also been a problem for people with diabetes. High costs, supply chain disruptions and patent issues are at the root of insulin’s inaccessibility. In 2018, a study in the journal Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology estimated that 79 million people with type 2 diabetes will need insulin by 2030, and that half of them will not be able to receive it.

“Some patients who have taken Ozempic or similar drugs who can’t get it now, we have to temporarily start them on insulin, that doesn’t mean insulin is a bad drug or it’s It’s a great tragedy,” Crandall clarified. “But the side effect profile with insulin is different, the need for frequent blood glucose monitoring due to the risk of hypoglycemia is greater.” Crandall added that many people who use insulin gain weight, which “is not a good thing for most people with type 2 diabetes.”

Crandall said the interconnectedness of Ozempic and insulin shortages speaks to the difficulties diabetic patients face in accessing treatment.

“These drugs are incredibly expensive, whether used for obesity or for diabetes,” Crandall said. “And that said, a lot of people, even though it may be covered by their insurance, their payment is still several hundred dollars a month and they can’t afford it.”

Leave a Comment