Musk, celebs drive diabetes Rx shortage

By Sarah Handzel, BSN, RN | Fact-checked by MDLinx staff
Published February 2, 2023

Key Takeaways

  • Touted by celebrities for its weight-loss properties, the drug Ozempic is experiencing a shortage affecting people living with type 2 diabetes (T2D), the condition for which it’s prescribed off-label.

  • While alternative diabetes drugs are available, they may not be as effective as Ozempic for some patients with T2D.

  • Physicians should thoroughly discuss treatment options with the patient before deciding on a new plan to treat their T2D.

Semaglutide, an off-label drug for diabetes sold under the brand name Ozempic, has become so popular among celebrities for its weight-loss properties that supplies are running low.

This is causing concern in the medical community, as patients with type 2 diabetes (T2D) may not be able to get their needed supply of this medication.

Grew in popularity

In late 2022, pharmacies around the country started to run out of Ozempic as the drug soared in popularity among celebrities.

That’s not because a vast number of Hollywood insiders have diabetes. Instead, celebrities and other socially prominent people like Elon Musk have touted one of the drug’s “best” side effects: weight loss, according to an article published by Forbes.[]

Fueled by various social media platforms, the trend took off and #ozempic has gotten over 400 million views on TikTok.[]

People are reportedly excited to share how the drug helped their weight-loss journey, and others have used this information to request the drug from their own clinicians.

The downside for patients with T2D

While Ozempic’s purported weight-loss properties may be good news to some individuals, there is a group that’s not benefiting. People living with T2D, the condition for which Ozempic was intended to be prescribed, cannot find the medication in local pharmacies or online.

“The issue is that many people are taking health advice for non-medical professionals and influencers who aren't always making sound recommendations,” Anastasia Climan, RD and nutritionist, told MDLinx. “People are desperate for a quick fix to lose weight. But unfortunately, most medications that cause weight loss (including stimulants like Adderall and some diabetes drugs) have rebound effects where the individual gains weight after stopping the drug.”

"The shortage is bad for everyone—people living with diabetes and those using the drug for off-label treatments that may backfire in the long run."

Anastasia Climan, RD

How Ozempic helps manage T2D

Ozempic is a non-insulin medication that lowers blood sugar using three methods, according to information posted by the company’s manufacturer, Novo Nordisk.[]

First, the drug stimulates the pancreas to produce more insulin when blood glucose levels rise. Then it prevents the liver from producing and releasing too much glucose.

Finally, this medication slows gastric emptying, which is, according to research published by The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, a major factor that helps determine the body’s glycemic response.[]

Given as an injection, patients take a dose once a week; the starting dose of 0.25 mg can be titrated up to 2 mg weekly if additional blood glucose control is necessary. The medication may be taken with or without food, and there’s no need to take it at the same time every week. Common side effects include abdominal pain, constipation, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting.

However, research also suggests that taking Ozempic combined with a calorie-deficient diet and exercise can result in significant weight loss. According to a study published by the New England Journal of Medicine, people using Ozempic along with diet and exercise saw a 14.9% reduction in weight compared with only 2.4% in a placebo group.[]'

Related: Novel type 2 diabetes medication Mounjaro gets FDA approval

Shortage impacts people with diabetes

Unfortunately, many people who live with diabetes already struggle with finding affordable medications to help them manage the condition. The increased demand for Ozempic has exacerbated this issue.

Patients may have to rely on doctor’s office samples, shop around at multiple pharmacies to find the drug, or take lower doses due to short supplies, according to an NBC News report.[] Some patients have even turned to pharmacies in other countries, such as Canada, for the drug, as reported by Global News.[]

In worst-case scenarios, patients with T2D must switch from Ozempic to another diabetes drug that may or may not be as effective as their original prescription. This frustrates both patients and doctors and, in some cases, may lead to patients simply discontinuing their treatment regimen.

Helping patients during shortfall

Other than the patient, physicians are usually the first to deal with health consequences stemming from drug shortages. Patients with T2D who are or were previously taking Ozempic should be counseled that it may not remain available as the shortage lingers.

Physicians should be prepared to discuss changing treatment plans and to suggest preferred treatment methods with each patient directly. Alternative medications can help, but the patient should be monitored closely for treatment response and possible side effects.

"The root of the problem really needs to be addressed, which is to reduce the demand for unhealthy weight loss solutions and encourage safe and sustainable weight loss treatment."

Anastasia Climan, RD

“People need to understand that just because a medication helps with weight loss in the short term doesn't mean it's been tested or meant for long-term use by people without diabetes,” Climan added.

What this means for you

The Ozempic shortfall is in full swing, and physicians should be aware that many patients with T2D may need to change their treatment plans to reflect this. Patients should still be guided to adhere to treatment recommendations and maintain a healthy diet and exercise regimen to help manage both their weight and their T2D.

Read Next: Off-label use of diabetes medication effective for weight loss
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