Diabetes drug, gaining popularity for weight loss, in short supply

Published: Jan. 12, 2023 at 5:48 PM CST
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KCTV) - A social media trend is being blamed for a shortage in diabetes medications. The injectable medication improves blood sugar levels and can improve heart function in type-2 diabetics with heart disease, but it also suppresses the appetite.

We first reported on these medications a few weeks ago. Celebrities and influencers have been very public about using Ozempic and Mounjaro for weight loss, and many in Kansas City are having success, too.

But, the popularity is causing a shortage—even for those who need it most.

Ernie Rupp is a pharmacist and owner of Stark Pharmacy. He also has type-2 diabetes and uses Ozempic to help control it.

“I had to switch to the tablet form, Rybelsus--and take that for 30 days,” said Rupp. “And when I went to the doctor and had my blood sugar checked. It was not quite as good as it was on Ozempic.”

Ozempic has not been FDA approved for weight loss, but some people have started using it, and the similar injectable Monjaro, “off label.” Two other injectables recently got full approval for chronic weight management—Wegovy and Saxenda. They are also getting good reviews for weight loss.

“I call it the wonder weight loss drug,” said Hattie Lage.

Lage, of Lee’s Summit, decided to give the medication a shot when her weight loss efforts failed. Within a few short months, she reached her goal of a 25-pound loss.

Those fast results have fueled a frenzy. Rumors of its use by the Kardashians sparked even more interest. Videos have sprung up on TikTok getting millions of views.

All this attention has led to a worldwide shortage, according to the database maintained by the Food and Drug Administration.

“Oh, we can’t get it anymore,” said Rupp.

The supply issue doesn’t seem to involve the drug itself, but the delivery system. All of these drugs are injected either daily or weekly with auto-injectors.

“Wherever they make the pens is having a manufacturing difficulty,” said Rupp. “So, they can’t send those out.”

Rupp told us Ozempic knew how many pens they needed for people with type-2 diabetes, but they didn’t anticipate the explosion in demand from all the people wanting it for weight loss.

“Their demand probably went up 50-100 percent,” said Rupp.

Now, many patients have no choice but to pharmacy hop, search for alternatives, or drug ration.

“If you’re type-2 diabetic, you need that stuff,” said Rupp.

Without their medication, the 35 million people living with type-2 diabetes could be at higher risk for things like heart disease, heart attacks, infections and even death. That’s why Rupp made an executive decision at Stark Pharmacy.

“We are not accepting new orders,” said Rupp. “We’re going to take care of our existing patients, rather than whoever calls us first gets it. That’s not fair to those who have been with us for years, months , decades and what not --that need this drug to survive.”

Novo Nordisk, the maker of Ozempic and Wegovy said it’s making “short- and long-term investments to help with supply distruptions,” but the shortage is expected to last well into the year.