A diabetes drug is facing a worldwide shortage and causing health problems as social media users boast of its properties as a “wonderful” weight loss trick.
Produced by the Danish company Novo Nordisk, Ozempic is an injectable drug that regulates blood sugar and insulin levels. It is usually prescribed to adults with type 2 diabetes, the most common type of diabetes.
But the drug’s active ingredient, semaglutide, also mimics a hormone called glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) that targets areas of the brain that regulate appetite and eating. Because it makes users feel full faster, it can lead to weight loss.
As a result, Ozempic has been touted on the Internet as a miracle diet drug. On TikTok, the hashtag #Ozempic It already has over 360 million views and counting.
Even the new head of Twitter, billionaire Elon Musk, has accredited Ozempic – along with a similar drug, Wegovy – as one of the reasons why he lost 13 kg.
On Facebook, groups dedicated to using Ozempic for weight loss have tens of thousands of followers.
The global increase in demand has already caused a Ozempic shortage in Australia it is expected to last until the end of March 2023.
Australian authorities have asked health professionals to stop starting new Ozempic prescriptions and to contact diabetic patients affected by the shortage to switch them to alternative treatments.
France’s national drug safety agency issued similar instructions. in September when he urged doctors to only start new GLP-1 drug prescriptions for patients with type 2 diabetes with a history of stroke or heart disease.
Authorities in the UK and Australia have also issued warnings to influencers promoting these drugs online. In France, pharmaceutical advertising directed at the general public is a highly regulated practice, requiring prior authorization and reserved for medicines that are not reimbursed by the public health insurance system.
In an emailed statement, Novo Nordisk said it was taking the shortage seriously and had invested $1.6 billion (1.5 billion euros) in 2022 alone to expand its production capacity. The company’s global manufacturing facilities are operating 24/7 to keep up with “stronger-than-anticipated” demand, he said.
“We are committed to working closely with authorities in affected markets to minimize the impact on patients and are doing everything we can to meet demand as quickly as possible.”
What are the health risks?
The shortage has consequences not only for patients with diabetes who need to follow their treatment daily, but also for people who resort to these drugs exclusively to lose weight.
“It can be mild digestive side effects, sometimes severe constipation and inflammation of the pancreas. In rare cases, this can lead to cancer,” François Montastruc, a pharmacologist at Toulouse University Hospital (Haute-Garonne), told the French television channel. France 3.
The instructions for Ozempic published by the European Medicines Agency state that nausea, diarrhea, and hypoglycemia are “very common” side effects. Like all medicines, Ozempic also has contraindications that a doctor must take into account when prescribing it.
Prescribing guidelines vary from country to country, but Ozempic has not been extensively studied for use in patients without diabetes or excess weight.
The rampant off-label use of a diabetes drug brings back memories of the Mediator scandal in France. The drug was widely prescribed as an appetite suppressant and for weight loss until it was linked to deadly heart problems and was withdrawn from the French market in 2009.
Ozempic was not licensed for weight loss, but in 2021 the FDA approved semaglutide, its active ingredient, under the brand name Wegovy for chronic weight management in obese or overweight adults with at least one related condition, such as high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes or high cholesterol.
The US Marketing Authorization specifies that Wegovy carries warnings about “inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis), gallbladder problems (including gallstones), low blood sugar, acute kidney injury, diabetic retinopathy (damage to the retina of the eye), increased heart rate and suicidal thoughts or behavior.
Regarding Ozempic, the US National Library of Medicine warns that the injectable drug “may increase the risk of developing tumors in the thyroid gland, including medullary thyroid carcinoma (CMT), which is a type of thyroid cancer. Laboratory animals given semaglutide developed tumors, but it is not known whether this drug increases the risk of tumors in humans.”
In its statement to Euronews Next, Novo Nordisk said it “adheres to high ethical standards as well as all regulations and does not promote or drive any off-label promotion of its products.” He said it was up to the doctors to choose the best treatment approach for their patients.
The drugmaker added that its GLP-1 drugs have been on the market for more than 10 years and “to date, safety data from trials and post-marketing safety surveillance have not identified any risks that outweigh the benefit of treatment.
A long list of diverted drugs
It is not the first time that a drug deviates from its purpose to be used for cosmetic reasons.
In 2021, a bbc documentary warned of the dangerous use of the medicated syrup apetamin by female influencers, this time to quickly gain weight and achieve an extreme hourglass figure. The drug, which is not approved in France or the UK, can cause drowsiness and, in severe cases, lead to liver failure or even coma.
A number of beauty “hacks” involving unlicensed drugs or unauthorized uses have come under fire in recent years. In a 2017 article on The conversationTwo French researchers have warned against the use of homeoplasmin, a medicated ointment containing boric acid that has been touted by beauty experts as a moisturizing balm, especially for the lips.
The use of anti-hemorrhoid creams to supposedly reduce puffiness and bags under the eyes has also made headlines. These creams usually contain hydrocortisone and are not suitable for the thin, fragile skin around the eyes.
In general, the health authorities recommend that the products in the first aid kit be used with caution and under the advice of a health professional.
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