Now doctors are evaluating the background of this influential drug.
The United States Food and Drug Administration has approved Ozempic, also known as semaglutide, as a type 2 diabetes treatment along with diet and exercise if other medications do not control blood sugar well enough.
Studies show that patients with type 2 diabetes – a chronic disease in which the body does not respond well to insulin – who take Ozempic may even reduce the risk of heart disease.
Although Ozempic is not explicitly approved for chronic weight management, it can be prescribed off-label and used safely for people with obesity.
Another drug called Wegovy is essentially the same injectable drug prescribed at a higher dose.
The The FDA specifically approved Wegovy for patients who are severely obese or overweight and suffer from one or more weight-related conditions such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol.
Both drugs are currently in short supply, according to the FDA.
Doctors say both drugs are important options for people with obesity and diabetes. More than 40% of Americans are obese and 10% of Americans have diabetes, according to the Centers for Disaster Control and Prevention.
“Obesity is a complex disease. It encompasses all genetic, occupational, hormonal, physical, mental and social factors,” said Dr. Marlena Klein, DO, DABOM, specialist in obesity medicine at Cooper University Health Care. “Patients hugged me in the office and said I changed their lives because it empowered them to make changes.”
She continues: “It felt like it was a missing piece in trying to get this disease under control.”
People who don’t have diabetes or obesity can still be prescribed the “off-label” drug, but they may have to pay out of pocket, which could cost $800 to $1,400 for a supply of a month.
Since entering the market, Ozempic and Wegovy have been in high demand for both on-label and off-label use.
Novo Nordisk, the company that makes the two drugs, says it is currently experiencing “intermittent supply disruptions” of Ozempic due to “incredible demand” coupled with supply chain constraints.
Because weight loss is a major concern in the United States, experts hope that more patients will be able to access these drugs very soon.
Semaglutide works by helping the pancreas release insulin to move sugar from the blood to body tissues.
It also works by slowing the movement of food through the stomach and reducing appetite, thus leading to weight loss. It cannot be given to patients with certain medical conditions, including medullary thyroid cancer, pancreatitis, or gallstones.
Side effects can include severe nausea and constipation.
Its safety has not yet been established in minors.
Doctors will start with a low injection dose and increase the dose after four weeks depending on your body’s response.
Dr. Louis J. Arrone, director of Weill Cornell Medicine & New York Presbyterian’s Comprehensive Weight Control Center, said that in his practice, patients have turned to Ozempic because Wegovy is so rare.
Novo Nordisk said it was on track to make Wegovy more widely available in December, and a broad commercial relaunch is expected next year.
Doctors say any patient having difficulty accessing Ozempic or Wegovy due to the current nationwide shortage should speak to their primary care physician or endocrinologist about alternative options within the same drug class.
There are oral forms and other injectable forms which can be administered daily or weekly.
Dr. Avish Jain, DO, is a resident physician in internal medicine at Cooper University Hospital and a member of the ABC News Medical Unit.