Telling Causes of The Ozempic® / Wegovy® Shortages
If you haven’t heard, there is a significant shortage of a diabetes drug marketed as Ozempic® along with another semaglutide formulation, known as Wegovy®, FDA-approved for obesity. Semaglutides are a very effective therapy for those with sugar control issues as they stimulate insulin production in the body. However, this class of drugs has also shown significant weight loss potential by reducing hunger. While the drug is not approved as a therapy for casual weight loss, many people who only wish to lose a few pounds have received it via off-label prescription from their doctors. The result has been an overwhelming demand for the drugs and a shortage for those who genuinely need them for diabetes and obesity control.
The Lengths We Will Go to Lose Weight
As we’ve discussed elsewhere on this website, there has been an increasing trend toward extreme or fad options for weight loss. Why is getting a simple prescription so extreme? It returns to the age-old discussion of Band-Aid versus treatment of the underlying cause. Just as with any fad diet, taking a drug to lose weight when you are obese or morbidly obese may offer a degree of weight loss early on; however, this weight loss can only be maintained for as long as you take the drug. You are not addressing the main issue of obesity, which can be hormonal, psychological, or physiological.
Why Is This So Bad for People With Diabetes?
Millions of Americans rely on their diabetic medication to control their blood sugar and avoid significant diabetes-related conditions, including heart disease, circulation issues, neuropathy, and even blindness. Although we could dismiss the shortage and tell someone with diabetes to find a different medication, it’s not easy. First, they need to see their doctor or endocrinologist for a new prescription, which can be a tall order as many doctor’s offices are very busy. Secondly, not all diabetes medications work the same way, and results are not necessarily predictable when starting a new medication.
Is It Legal or Ethical to Prescribe Ozempic to Patients Wishing to Lose Weight?
The simple fact is that, as doctors, we can prescribe off-label. This means that even if the FDA has not approved a drug for that condition, we can prescribe them if we believe it will offer a benefit. As such, prescribing these drugs, even off-label, is legal. From an ethical standpoint, the question is somewhat nuanced. There is a place for weight loss medication to help those with obesity improve their lifestyles, prepare for an upcoming surgical procedure, or maintain their weight loss after bariatric surgery. However, this balance becomes distinctly more skewed when we talk about those who wish to lose a little weight and could easily and quickly do so through diet and exercise alone.
Isn’t Surgery More Extreme Than Medication?
We would venture to say that while surgery seems like an extreme option, it is one of the few therapies that gets to the underlying metabolic reasons for obesity. Through restriction, hormonal balance, and malabsorption, bariatric surgery truly is the best and most effective long-term weight loss option for those that qualify.
There is a place for medication, and it should not be dismissed. However, during times, like these, we encourage our patients to look at alternatives that do not take away from the medical needs of those that rely on these medications.
Start the conversation about weight loss with your primary care physician and a bariatric surgeon to understand the full breadth of options available. You will find that many bariatric practices also have supervised weight loss programs that can be very effective if you need to lose relatively lower amounts of weight or if you are not a good candidate for bariatric surgery at the moment. Involving your trusted medical team allows them to consider your medical history and other concerns while addressing your weight loss.
If you suffer from obesity, have run out of weight loss options, or are considering taking a diabetes medication like Ozempic for weight loss, we encourage you to contact our office and learn more about the medical and surgical options available.