The Real Reason Behind a Diabetes Drug Shortage

To help manage chronic weight issues, some people with Type 2 diabetes are prescribed Ozempic. Recently the drug has been hard to find. This is why.

Jan. 12, 2023 5   min read

A Black man tests his insulin levels at home

Type 2 diabetes patients searching for a certain type of prescribed medication are coming up short.

The reason? Influencers online are touting their use of the drug for weight loss, with TikTok videos garnering more than 150 million views. The word-of-mouth effect is leading some diabetic patients to ration their current supply of the drug as they try to find more.

Seth Charatz, DO, is the Medical Director of Endocrinology with Rochester Regional Health and describes how this medication is made to work, certain why diabetic patients need it, and how a shortage impacts patients.

How the drug works

Semaglutide, marketed under the name Ozempic, was manufactured to help patients with type 2 diabetes as a form of long-term weight management.

Ozempic imitates a hormone in the stomach and intestines called glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1). GLP-1 hormones influence parts of the brain that control appetite and food consumption by lowering glucose production from the liver and increasing the release of insulin from the pancreas.

In 2017, Ozempic was approved by the FDA for use in diabetic patients as an injection.

Common side effects include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain, and constipation. There is also a slight increased risk of hypoglycemia – if used in conjunction with other diabetes drugs – as well as pancreatitis.

Most insurance plans do not cover Wegovy or Ozempic as a weight loss treatment. The cost usually averages around $400-500 per month.

Following the trend

In June 2021, the FDA approved a similar semaglutide drug called Wegovy for weight loss in non-diabetic patients.

Shortly after Wegovy was approved, influencers and public figures started using the drug and sharing the results they were seeing.

“In some studies, participants lost 10-30 lbs.,” Dr. Charatz said. “The results combined with celebrities talking about their own experiences led to a rapid surge in demand, which – in turn – led to a supply shortage.”

As manufacturers struggled to maintain the supply of Wegovy, people searching for the drug discovered Ozempic is semaglutide and began to buy it – leading to a shortage of both Wegovy and Ozempic.

For diabetic patients who are unable to use the drug as prescribed, there are serious potential risks.

“Their glycemic control worsens, which leads to increased risk of heart attack, stroke, or cardiovascular events. This is concerning for patients who are doing well on the medication and then suddenly need to go off of it to find an alternative method to control their diabetes,” Dr. Charatz said.

Seeking out alternatives

The main concern for endocrinologists is for diabetic patients who have started using Ozempic or Rybelsus (an oral version of the drug) and are now unable to obtain it at the pharmacy due to the increased demand.

Dr. Charatz said he and other physicians who treat diabetic patients are seeing more and more of their patients in this situation. The bottom line? For now, patients will have to do the leg work to find their own supply or a viable alternative such as Trulicity, Bydureon, Mounjaro, or Victoza.

“We encourage patients to ask their pharmacist if they have additional doses available or alternatives in stock,” Dr. Charatz said. “Once they find their drug in similar doses or a new similar drug that works, patients are encouraged ask their primary care provider or endocrinologist to call in a refillable prescription.”

Patients are encouraged to talk with your primary care provider and endocrinologist about any changes in their medications, including finding alternatives.

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