A recent trend on the popular video app TikTok has exacerbated a shortage of the diabetes medication Ozempic after being touted online as an effective weight-loss treatment.

The current lack of medication affects those living with diabetes in Australia, with GPs in the country being asked to prioritise prescriptions for those with the condition.

Last month, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), issued a joint statement alongside several other medical bodies, including Diabetes Australia and the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia, explaining that the  current shortage of Ozempic, “is due to extensive prescribing for obesity management, for which Ozempic is not indicated.”

The injectable semaglutide medication is produced by the Danish company Novo Nordisk, and is an essential medication for those with type 2 diabetes. The statement asks health professionals to restrict prescribing and dispensing of Ozempic to its approved use:

“Treatment of adults with insufficiently controlled type 2 diabetes mellitus as an adjunct to diet and exercise:

  • As monotherapy when metformin is not tolerated or contraindicated
  • In addition to other medicinal products for the treatment of type 2 diabetes”

The popularity of Ozempic grew on social media around the same time a similar drug called Wegovy, also manufactured by Novo Nordisk, was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for chronic weight management. Currently, Wegovy is under assessment by the TGA.

Australian users of the TikTok app have been documenting their weight loss progress using the hashtag #ozempic, which has over 76.3 million views at the time of writing, as well as #ozempicaustralia, #ozempicweightloss and #ozempicjourney.

Speaking with the Guardian, Royal Australian College of General Practitioners president, Dr Karen Price said: “There are lots of issues people need to be aware of but most importantly, it’s not yet approved in Australia or the UK for weight loss. It’s being used off-label, which means that this huge demand is not stopping people who have a genuine need for the medication for their diabetes.”

Price also warned against the possible side effects that come with using Ozempic as a weight loss drug, including nausea and vomiting. There are also contraindications if pregnant or breastfeeding.

Although the health advice offered on social media may seem innocuous, Price said users should be wary about what is posted online.

“Often it’s very simplistically done, by non-medical people, and sadly it’s a very consumeristic approach to healthcare. Healthcare is never simple and it does need expert guidance.”

“Weight loss is complex, it does require a whole lifestyle approach – psychology, exercise, diet – and depending on what’s going on for that person, including their other medications and other medical conditions,” Price added.

The TGA statement explains that if you have been prescribed the drug for another condition other than diabetes management, your pharmacist may not be able to fulfil your prescription due to the current shortage. Instead, they recommend that you speak to your health professional if you have any questions or concerns, as they may also be able to discuss alternative options available to you.

Australians taking Ozempic to manage their diabetes are being encouraged by the TGA to contact their pharmacy as soon as possible to have their prescriptions filled out. Waiting until their medication runs out before re-ordering may further delay receiving more of the drug.

 

 

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