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Weight loss drug shortage leads to shortage of diabetic medication

Patients dealing with Type II Diabetes have a new hurdle to overcome. A popular medication prescribed to manage blood sugar levels is in short supply as a result of a separate shortage of a popular weight loss medication.

Wegovy, an injectable medication that was approved by the FDA to assist in weight loss for obese patients in 2021, has ballooned in popularity recently, thanks in part to social media influencers who recommend the drug to their followers. According to Dr. Devika Umashanker, a bariatric specialist at Hartford Healthcare, when Wegovy became harder to find a few months ago, providers started prescribing their patients Ozempic, a very similar medication for diabetic patients.

The influx of patients on Ozempic resulted in a shortage, impacting patients who struggle to control their blood sugars.

“This definitely is a different situation that I think many of us have not faced in the past because of these shortages,” says Dr. Umashanker. “I think it’s just an important message to recognize what can occur when we use medications as an off-label approach.”

Both Wegovy and Ozempic both use semaglutide as the active ingredient, however, the two drugs are dosed differently. Since they are used for different purposes and have been FDA approved for those purposes, they are not interchangeable.

Dr. Umashanker says it is not uncommon for physicians to prescribe medications off-label, but that those decisions should be made carefully and only when necessary.

“Our first line of treatment is to try to prescribe something that’s FDA-approved,” she explains. “If the insurance doesn’t cover the medication, for example for people who have a BMI greater than 50 and we try to do Wegovy and it doesn’t get covered, then our next step is do something off label.”

Dr. Umashanker says they usually prescribe generic medication to achieve a similar effect, even if it isn’t as effective as the original medication.

Patients who are unable to get their Wegovy prescriptions filled don’t face any ill effects but shortages of Ozempic can have major repercussions for diabetic patients.

“Our biggest concern is that their sugars won’t be controlled right so then we would have to change them over to another medication,” says Dr. Umashanker. Those new medications, she says, carry new risks. They could be more complicated to administer, leading to trouble with compliance, or could have new or worse side effects.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel, however. According to Dr. Umashanker, Novo Nordisk, the manufacturer of both medications, has said they plan to increase Wegovy supply near the end of the year to clear the shortage in early 2023.

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Tricia Ennis

An Emmy and AP award-winning journalist, Tricia has spent more than a decade working in digital and broadcast media. She has covered everything from government corruption to science and space to entertainment and is always looking for new and interesting stories to tell. She believes in the power of journalism to affect change and to change minds and wants to hear from you about the stories you think about being overlooked.

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