In the north of England, Chloe takes Friday afternoon off to visit six different pharmacies in search of her routine prescription. For a year, she injected Ozempic every Monday to manage your type 2 Diabetesbut it is out of stock in his area.
She’s been unlucky for the past four months. Instead, she had to switch to Trulicity, an alternative drug, which requires her to start over from her lowest prescription to increase the dose. His blood sugar levels fluctuated for a few weeks, leading to fatigue and headaches, as well as causing him to more frequently self-administer uncomfortable finger-prick blood tests.
A few days later, a conversation with a friend put the pharmacy supply problem into perspective. “She had heard about Ozempic from the lady who takes care of her eyebrows and was considering buying it for £180 a month to lose weight,” said Chloe – who speaks anonymously because of that friendship and her work – at VICE.
Approved by the FDA in the United States in 2017 and by the EU in 2018, Ozempic is a brand name of semaglutide, manufactured by the Danish pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk. When injected, it mimics a hormone produced in the gut called GLP-1 that regulates insulin and blood sugar levels and is essential for managing type 2 diabetes. Users feel full longer , which reduces the feeling of hunger.
In 2021, Wegovy, another semaglutide brand from Novo Nordisk, was approved in the US and UK to treat obesity. Next to a Wegovy Shortagedoctors began prescribing off-label Ozempic for weight loss, causing a surge in sales. For the first nine months of 2022, Novo Nordisk has announced a 59% growth in sales of GLP-1 products.
Another unexpected byproduct of Ozempic’s off-label prescription is its rise as a weight-loss drug. of the day by those without diabetes or obesity. On TikTok, hashtag #Ozempic already has over 320 million views and counting. Although some users are diabetic or obese, others documenting their “Ozempic journey” use the drug as a quick weight loss solution.
Elsewhere on the platform, there has been unfounded speculation of plastic surgeons that Ozempic is the “secret weight loss drug” that Kim Kardashian used to step into Marilyn Monroe’s dress at the Met Gala this year. (The Kardashians star never talked about taking the drug.) The Guardian and Variety called Ozempic”Hollywood’s Worst Kept Secretand include California-based medical professionals saying “everyone” is taking part – namely celebrities who can afford the high price tag in the United States. A doctor told VICE that the drugs could cost between $8,000 and $1,000 a month.
For Chloe, the supply issue is a hard pill to swallow. Without it, her blood sugar levels rise, which can lead to heart attacks, strokes, blindness, miscarriages, and long-term stillbirth. “I was angry that I couldn’t get my prescription,” she says. “I fought for a long time to get my diabetes under control, and on Ozempic, for the first time in a long time, it was really well managed.”
The shortage is also affecting healthcare providers. Once a week, North London-based nurse Amina visits home-bound patients with type 2 diabetes and obesity to administer the drug. In November, she received a newsletter from her hospital trust employers about the Ozempic supply problem. (Amina speaks anonymously to protect her identity at work.)
Amina told VICE that her community’s stock will only last two to three weeks. She is already contacting other boroughs to try to find him. “I’ve called so many pharmacies today, and they can’t answer me,” she sighs. “I try not to show my patients, but I am deeply worried about them. You feel what they feel. I treat them like I want a family member to be treated, and I’m really scared.
Ozempic has improved the quality of life of her patients, but she fears that their blood sugar levels will rise once the drug is stopped and lead to unwanted weight gain. “Semaglutide is often prescribed as a preventative in the treatment of cardiovascular disease, heart attacks and strokes,” she explains, “so the risk will increase if patients recover.”
Novo Nordisk told VICE that the company was “aware of a stock shortage,” adding, “The shortage is due to unprecedented levels of demand for this drug which has challenged our manufacturing capacity. »
“Ensuring a continuous supply that meets the needs of patients and the NHS is of the utmost importance to Novo Nordisk. We are working to remedy the shortage as soon as possible. »
Its current facilities “now operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week” to meet demand, the spokesperson added. In December 2021, Novo Nordisk also announced plans to build three new manufacturing facilities to ramp up production.
On Twitter, some diabetic Ozempic users and their family members reacted to the shortage by scapegoating those taking the drug for reasons of obesity. A tweeted“Put your fat ass on a treadmill instead.” Stigma has brought to the fore a controversial question: should obesity be defined as a disease? Healthcare professionals in the United States, where the American Medical Association defines obesity as a disease, told VICE that obese patients also need the drug because obesity can contribute to heart disease, strokes and type 2 diabetes itself.
They say this definition is consistent with the latest scientific evidence, and if it is not defined as a disease, it places the blame on individual lifestyle or moral failings. However, obese campaigners say obesity does not always reflect poor health, and in the UK the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) defines it as a medical condition, not a disease.
Are celebrities and the wealthy responsible for the current Ozempic shortage? Michael Albert, MD, co-founder and medical director of Achieve health, a New York-based telehealth weight management medical practice, believes there is no evidence to suggest so. “The United States has approximately 100 million obese adults,” he says. “It’s no surprise that these treatments are in unprecedented demand, as we now have treatments that work, even though they are widely used off-label.”
Dr. Michael Glickman, who started a medical practice in the United States for obese people, agrees. “We don’t have any evidence to prove that, because there’s a very high bar to prove something like that,” said the Revolutionary medicine says the founder. Anecdotally, however, he noticed a trend of “new patients coming in who heard about the drugs online or through social media.”
“Patients call us and already know exactly what drug they want to try,” he says. “In the past, most patients were unaware of these drugs and doctors were the ones to present them with all the available options.”
Both Amina and Chloe separately told VICE that they have found internet vendors offering Ozempic without requiring buyers to show evidence of diabetes or obesity, indicating a trend for the drug to be more readily available. for mass consumption – albeit with little understanding of serious side effects. Those who fly blind and take Ozempic as a quick fix for weight loss run the risk of its potential side effects, including thyroid tumors, pancreatitis, and kidney failure.
“I could do my BMI and put it in my [online shopping] basket,” says Amina. “Patients need it – it’s a lifelong drug and people buy it haphazardly without understanding the serious risks.”
Before issuing an Ozempic prescription, Chloe and her doctor had a mandatory conversation about side effects. She was trained to give the injections correctly to avoid bruising or calluses and was given a sharps bin for needle disposal and a blood test every six months to make sure the drugs weren’t damaging. not his organs.
“It’s scary a drug to treat diabetes and obesity is available to buy by prescription,” she says, “without any of those necessary precautions in place.
In Australia, the Ozempic drought is not new. In May, Novo Nordisk asked the Australian government-run Therapeutic Goods Administration to urge healthcare professionals to avoid prescribing Ozempic off-label due to a supply problem, and on November 15, a update indicated that there would be no Ozempic in the country until March 2023.
Type 2 diabetes patient Tricia Nelson, 51, lives in Adelaide and was prescribed Ozempic in May after a previous medication negatively affected her pancreas and liver. Her pharmacist said Ozempic was not in stock and warned there was already a long waiting list. Tricia phoned 44 chemists but was unable to source any and was put on insulin instead, which is used as a short-term solution to lower blood sugar.
“[It] also not good for my pancreas and liver,” she says of insulin. “Doctors want me to take Ozempic – it will help keep my organs working, but there is none available in my county. It has caused me a lot of stress – my skin has aged, my hair is falling out – I don’t know what to do anymore.
The Ozempic drought has affected Glickman’s customers sporadically for most of 2022. He’s worked with patients — some of whom have diabetes — to ration supplies by slightly decreasing doses so it lasts longer.
“For patients who couldn’t get the Ozempic refill they needed, we rationed the drugs available to them at home,” he says. “It’s not ideal because if they’re not on the optimal treatment, that’s where we might start to see risks, like increased weight regain and blood sugar levels, but it’s better. than giving up the drug altogether.”
Glickman’s patients had the advantage of being able to plan ahead. But like what happened to Chloe, there will be other diabetic users – unaware that their drug supply may soon run out – who could risk ending up in A&E if they suddenly lose access to Ozempic.
“My situation is just the tip of the iceberg,” warns Chloé. “It scares me to think how many more people in the UK will have their supply of Ozempic compromised without warning – by people without diabetes or obesity – trying to get thin.”