There are thousands of videos on TikTok that claim that you can miraculously lose weight by taking Ozempic, a medicine meant to be used by people with diabetes. As a result, there has been a massive rise in sales of Ozempic worldwide. Now, both doctors and people with diabetes are afraid that the drug's popularity as a weight loss aid will lead to shortages.
There are now thousands of videos on TikTok with the hashtag #ozempic featuring women who demonstrate how much weight they’ve lost since they started injecting this drug, which reduces the feeling of hunger. Some of these videos have garnered more than three million views.
In some of the videos posted on TikTok, users speculate about the rapid weight loss of certain celebrities like Kim Kardashian, who some believe used antidiabetics to shed pounds quickly. Tesla CEO Elon Musk said in a tweet posted on October 2, 2022 that he had used Wengovy, a weight loss drug manufactured by the lab that makes Ozempic.
The virtual craze has had real effects: the global sales of Ozempic, which is produced by the Novo Nordisk laboratory, increased by 63 percent in the last quarter of 2022. The demand is in part motivated by people who don’t have diabetes but who want to lose weight, which is outside the drug’s approved indication.
Ozempic is one of the antidiabetic drugs that imitate the hormone GLP-1 which stimulates the production of insulin, which slows down digestion and reduces hunger. Usually, this drug is only prescribed to people with type 2 diabetes, which is the most widespread form. An estimated 537 million across the globe are thought to have type 2 diabetes, or one out of every ten people.
'Doctors should be held responsible for these shortages'
Ashli Hinds, age 40, lives in Dallas, Texas and has type 2 diabetes.
I had a hard time getting a hold of my Ozempic prescription and the pharmacy wasn't able to tell me what was happening.
Last November, I ended up changing pharmacies. I now use a pharmacy that delivers medications, it's the only one that does. But I have to keep a close eye on the schedule to make sure I can get my medication.
Doctors only give Ozempic in 30-day supplies now. You used to be able to get it for two or three months, but they cut it down to one month last summer.
I am very worried about this shortage. It's all because of the craze of TikTokers who want to lose weight with this drug. Doctors should be held responsible for these shortages.
Our team spoke to cardiologist Jean-François Thébaut, the vice president of the French Federation of Diabetics (FFD). He said he is afraid that the online craze may lead to shortages of the drug in France:
There hasn’t been a shortage yet, but we are concerned. Some pharmacies have been struggling to get it, which is a problem for diabetic patients.
In France, Ozempic is only authorised for use by diabetic patients. However, doctors can prescribe it outside of its indication, though that usually means that it won’t be reimbursed by social security.
Some French pharmacists have reported that people have attempted to use fake prescriptions in order to get the drug.
The same laboratory that produces Ozempic does actually manufacture another drug specifically for weight loss called Wegovy. However, in France, doctors can only prescribe Wegovy in cases of severe obesity (when a person has a body mass index, or BMI, of over 40.)
Moreover, only specialists can prescribe the drug and is not covered by insurance or social security. In the United States, doctors can prescribe it to overweight adults (BMI≥27) who have medical issues linked to their weight.
Bruno Vergès is an endocrinologist, diabetologist and specialist in metabolic illness at the teaching hospital, CHU Dijon Bourgogne:
It is possible that, in order to get around the fact that is is hard to get a prescription for Wegovy and impossible to get it reimbursed by social security, certain doctors are prescribing Ozempic [which can be reimbursed] in order to promote weight loss for obese patients who are not diabetic, which is illegal.
When Wegovy was launched in the United States in June 2021, Novo Nordisk had production issues that meant that they were not able to keep up with demand. Because of this, certain people wanting to lose weight may have turned to Ozempic.
Our team reached out to the Novo Nordisk Laboratory, which admitted that they had “periodic shortages” of Wegovy and said that they had invested in their production site in Chartres in order to reduce “tensions.”
The price difference could also explain why some Americans are turning to Ozempic. A monthly Ozempic treatment costs about $892 [equivalent to €817], while a monthly dose of Wegovy costs around $1,300 [equivalent to roughly €1,190]. This price difference is even more significant in cases where insurance doesn’t reimburse the expense or if the person manages to obtain the medication without a prescription.
'I wanted to lose weight and I’ve never managed'
Our team spoke to a woman living in Quebec in Canada who is taking Ozempic to lose weight:
Here in Quebec, [Ozempic] is, in theory, only authorised for use by diabetics.
However, I wanted to lose weight and I’ve never managed. I don’t have any of the signs of obesity but I’ve always been plump even though I eat normally and am active.
My doctor told me about Ozempic and I said yes! It was easy to get it because I take the dosage for a diabetic, 1 mg. And I lost 15 percent of my body weight in one year.
On Tik Tok, there are lots of so-called heath and wellness centres in the United States that are promoting Ozempic. There are also websites registered in the United States that will sell Ozempic online without a prescription. And while the site says that there is a research aim behind selling this medication, they don’t seem to ask for any kind of authorisation from the buyer.
Not a miracle drug
Doctors, however, say that you need to take Ozempic while under the care of a doctor.
"The medication can have unpleasant side effects,” says Jean-François Thébaut. “It can also have rare secondary effects on the thyroid and pancreas."
While people do often lose weight when taking the drug, a study published in April 2022 noted that, after a year, most patients had gained back at least two-thirds of the weight lost.