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Popular diabetes drug in short supply due to people using it for weight loss

Off-label prescribing of Ozempic triggers shortage


*Sourced from ABC Action News, 01/12/2023


TAMPA, Fla. — Ozempic is a prescription drug that helps people with diabetes control blood sugar levels.


It also helps people lose weight and that’s making it hard to get.


The ABC Action News I-Team uncovers what’s behind the shortage of a drug many diabetic patients say they can’t live without.


“This is the one I take. It’s the lower dose one,” said 71-year-old Lutz resident Becky Gandy, showing us her Ozempic injection pen.


Gandy says the injectable drug Ozempic helped her achieve optimum blood sugar levels for the first time in 20 years.


She’s trying to avoid the same fate as her mother, who died of complications from the disease.


But Gandy’s last Ozempic pen is about to run out.


High demand, low supply

“You see how far down it is, this thing here? I think that means I’ve got one shot left,” she says.


That’s only enough for a week and her pharmacy doesn’t have anymore.


“About two months ago, it was like, oh, it hasn’t come in yet. It’ll take another week or two. And then this last round, this last month they just don’t have it,” Gandy said.


The main reason is the high demand for the product, not only by diabetics but also by people trying to lose weight.


“There’s a lot of providers who are writing off label to help their obese patients lose weight,” said nurse practitioner Kim Randolph.


Randolph runs a primary care clinic in Westchase, where she treats many patients for diabetes and weight management.


She says providers are prescribing Ozempic at patients’ requests even though the drug is not approved for weight loss.


“They’ve already heard about it. There’s Facebook groups out there talking about it,” Randolph said.


She says it’s like nothing she’s seen in the 15 years she’s been in practice.


Ozempic’s TV commercials put new lyrics to the the 1970’s hit song “It’s Magic.”


Randolph says the jingle is catchy.


“It’s hard to get them out of your head. The marketing teams, they do a really, really fine job,” Randolph said. “When I say they do a fine job, they have patients come in here asking for it.


She said the fact that the drug helps you lose weight is one of the things the ads mention.


Randolph says many of her obese patients also are diabetic or pre-diabetic, so the drug helps them on multiple fronts.


Millions of mentions on social media, plenty of clinics prescribing

On Tik Tok, #Ozempic has 560 million views, with thousands of videos documenting how the drug helps people shrink.


We found multiple clinics in Tampa Bay advertising Ozempic weight loss plans, some without even requiring in-person visits.


Randolph says she only prescribes the drug to those who need it.


“It’s a tough conversation to have to tell a patient I’m sorry, you’re not diabetic. So it’s not for you. Does it work? Yeah. The people aren’t making it up,” Randolph said.


Tampa pharmacist Randy McEwen of Next Dose Pharmacy on Hillsborough Ave. says the shortage started in the fall.


“Ozempic began to jump off of the shelf,” McEwen said.


He showed us the available supply on one of the nation’s largest pharmacy wholesaler sites.


“This one right here, it says we have zero in stock. This one it says we’ve got one in stock right now. If I try to order that one, it won’t be available,” McEwen said.


The site says the most popular dosage of Ozempic isn’t expected to be available until February 28.


Gandy says people with diabetes should be at the front of the line to get it.


“It made me angry in a way. I understand people want to lose weight, but there are those of us that are diabetic that need this drug for our health, not just to lose a couple of pounds,” Gandy said.


High cost for off-label use

Using Ozempic only for weight loss can be costly.


A month’s supply without insurance costs $800 bucks.


And for people who are not diagnosed with diabetes, many insurance plans won’t cover the drug.


“When you try to process that claim through their insurance, it’s not gonna go through because it’s gonna require a specific diagnosis to indicate that this person is indeed a diabetic before this insurance company will pay for it,” McEwen said.


And McEwen says people who use diabetes drugs who are not diabetic often don’t check their glucose levels, so they could end up with high or low blood sugar levels without knowing it.


“You’re really playing like a little Russian roulette when you’re doing things like that,” he said.

A spokesperson for Ozempic’s manufacturer Novo Nordisk said in an email, “While we recognize that some healthcare providers may be prescribing Ozempic® for patients whose goal is to lose weight, Novo Nordisk does not promote, suggest, or encourage off-label use of our medicines.”


Randy has a message for those causing the shortage.


“I hope you’re able to lose your 20 pounds, but there are other ways for you to lose weight. There’s not really other good ways for me to control my diabetes. And I need it. I need it,” she said.

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