Ozempic warning: Doctors urge caution for those using the diabetes drug for weight loss
Some doctors warn against the use of the intended medicine treats type 2 diabetes for weight loss after some patients said it helped them lose a few pounds.
Approved by the FDA in 2017, the diabetes drug sold under the name Ozempic helps lower blood sugar, but many patients prescribed the drug have reported weight loss as a positive side effect, according to Fox 35 Orlando.
People without diabetes have become interested in using the weight loss drug after news of its perceived benefits made the rounds on social media platform TikTok.
“You definitely lose your appetite and you feel full almost all the time, and you don’t really crave sugar because your blood sugar doesn’t go high or low,” sports orthopedic surgeon Dr. Richard Lehman told Fox 35.
In 2021, the FDA approved a drug called Wegovy to help eligible patients facing obesity lose weight. Those seeking treatment had to have a BMI greater than 27 with at least one weight-related condition or a person with a BMI greater than 30.
According to the FDA, the largest clinical trial showed that people taking Wegovy lost an average of almost 13% of their initial body weight.
The FDA’s findings led people who wanted a quick way to shed a few pounds to find doctors willing to prescribe the drug “off label,” meaning it’s used for a condition other than what it was approved for.
“It’s closer to the magic weight loss that we have right now,” said Lehman, who has prescribed the drug to his athletes to help them shed a few pounds. “Those athletes started losing weight in 7 to 10 days. You can’t just eat as much as you want and not exercise. You have to stick to a regimen.”
Doctors warn that the benefits may be short-lived, especially if the patient has an unhealthy diet, lacks exercise or health education.
“They are given something and promised it will work. And sometimes it does because they believe it will. But what happens after that fact? You can’t be on drugs for the rest of your life,” said Jeremy Avner, co-owner of the clinic for weight loss Nuvia Medical in Lake Mary, Florida.
The Avner Clinic prescribes the drug to some of its patients.
One patient, who remained anonymous, told Fox 35 that she receives an injection once a week and that lost 20 pounds in eight weeks. She said she had never tried anything so effective.
“I have to buy new clothes, and everyone at work comes up to me and says how great I look,” she told the outlet.
dr. Ben Kaplan, Primary Health Care physician at Orlando Health who treats patients with diabetes and obesity, said the drug is intended to help high-risk patients lose weight. He emphasized that it is not for people outside of that group who want to shed pounds here and there.
“Patients who take these drugs off-label, for misuse, say recreationally, do so at their own risk,” Kaplan said, calling it a “buyer beware scenario.”
Other side effects include pancreatitis, gastrointestinal problems, and gallbladder problems, among others.
“I’m definitely more of an advocate for patients who want to lose weight to sit down with a dietitian, exercise physiologist, do things the right way. And then if that initial therapy doesn’t work, then you can talk about medications to help with weight loss,” Kaplan said.
The injection, if received once or twice a week, could cost in between $500 and $700 per visit, according to Lehman.
Ultimately, the price will vary from clinic to clinic. Insurance could lower costs for those who qualify for the drugs.