Ozempic shortage: Diabetes patients at risk as TikTok and telehealth prescriptions fuel drug demand


Telehealth and social media are playing a big role in demand for Ozempic, a prescription drug that treats type 2 diabetes, experts told CNN. The current shortage of drugs limits access for diabetic patients who depend on them to control their blood sugar.

Digital health companies make it easier to get drugs like Ozempic by providing prescriptions online. Many advertise quick and easy access, sometimes same day.

“Anecdotally, it’s almost easier to get drugs (through digital health companies),” said Dr. Disha Narang, endocrinologist and director of obesity medicine at Northwestern Medicine, Lake Forest Hospital. . “But not always the safest.” People who listed average weights on online intake forms were still offered the diabetes medication, Narang told CNN.

Partly due to the popularity of Ozempic, the market for prescription weight-loss drugs has grown significantly, according to MarketData Enterprises, an independent market research and consulting firm. The market has exceeded forecasters’ expectations for 2022 and is expected to grow into a nearly $2 billion industry in 2023.

WeightWatchers also taps into the realm of telehealth prescription drugs. Last week, the company purchased the Sequence telehealth subscription service, which connects patients to doctors who can prescribe weight loss and diabetes medications.

“In early 2022, these companies weren’t marketing this stuff,” Narang said, noting that publicity around Ozempic took off in 2022. “I think we really need to start questioning our ethics at this point. subject.”

There are few general requirements when it comes to admissions processes for digital health companies, Dr. Bree Holtz, an associate professor at Michigan State University who studies telemedicine, told CNN. Once a patient completes the required forms online, the information is transferred to an in-state provider who can write the prescription. Some companies require the patient to make a video or phone call with the provider – others don’t either.

“It’s kind of scary that you can just wake up and get these appointments – or these pharmaceuticals – and you’re not being taken care of,” Holtz said.

Telehealth has been a game changer in providing access to healthcare, especially during the pandemic. And especially for people living in places where high-quality primary care isn’t available, direct-to-consumer telehealth services can help fill a gap, said Dr. Laurie Buis, associate professor in the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Michigan, whose research focuses on digital health.

However, when patients begin to seek selective treatment from selective providers, Buis says it opens the door to issues such as fragmented care or abuse. Telehealth providers may not have access to a patient’s complete medical history and may be less able to provide holistic care than a primary care physician might otherwise.

“I have no doubt that some of these services are doing a good job,” Buis said. “There are also services that do not take it so seriously. And that’s worrying. »

The United States Food and Drug Administration first announced that Ozempic was in short supply last August. Supply will likely be tight through mid-March, according to the FDA’s Drug Shortages Database.

Ozempic prescriptions in the United States hit an all-time high in the last week of February, with more than 373,000 prescriptions filled, according to a JP Morgan analysis of IQVIA data shared with CNN. This is an increase of 111% compared to the same week in 2022.

Of those, more than half were new prescriptions, according to a CNN review of JP Morgan’s analysis.

With many patients relying on Ozempic for diabetes treatment, providers like Narang are scrambling to find alternatives to put their patients on.

“We receive daily messages about patients who cannot get their own medicine,” Narang said. “It’s been difficult for patients and providers.”

Ozempic currently has more than 40% of the U.S. market share of glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1) agonists — a class of drugs that mimic an appetite-regulating hormone — according to analysis by JP Morgan. These drugs work by stimulating the release of insulin, which helps lower blood sugar. They also slow down the passage of food through the intestine.

Ozempic has rapidly grown in popularity since it came to market in 2018. The drug has been used safely and successfully to help people with diabetes improve blood sugar levels and put diabetes into remission, Narang told CNN. Ozempic is the most potent of all GLP-1 drugs, she said.

Behind the brand name Ozempic is the drug semaglutide. While Ozempic is primarily used to treat type 2 diabetes, another drug by the name of Wegovy – also semaglutide – is approved specifically for chronic weight management.

Although approved by the FDA in 2021, Wegovy was not readily available for most of the last year, according to Narang, so people turned to Ozempic. According to the FDA’s Drug Shortages Database, Wegovy was undersupplied as of late March but returned to stock earlier this year.

The social media buzz around the two drugs took off in early 2023. Celebrities shared their testimonials of how semaglutide helped them lose unwanted pounds. Elon Muskfor example, publicly credited Ozempic and Wegovy in part for his weight loss.

#Ozempic and #Wegovy have been “extremely popular” over the past few months on TikTok, according to company analytics.

Using Ozempic and Wegovy for short-term weight loss has had real implications for patients who need the drugs for diabetes treatment and chronic weight management the most, Narang said. For example, some insurance companies have reportedly refused to cover Wegovy in the past, with one calling it a “vanity drug.”

Both drugs are intended for long-term use, not short-term weight loss. Their appetite-regulating effects wear off quickly after you stop taking them.

“It’s not meant to be medicine to take off your last five or 10 pounds to prepare for an event or anything like that. It’s not for three or four week use,” Narang said. “When we think of weight management, we think of the next 25 years of someone’s life.”

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