How TikTok turned diabetes drug Ozempic into a diet pill
It is the mark of every must-have product tick tock: The item soars through the air, caught by eager hands. The latest is Ozempic, a diet drug that’s hashtagged about 350 million times on the app. Young women smile for the camera while catching their dose. They pull injection pens from their packs. Stick the needle in their stomachs. And then share how many pounds you want to lose in the coming week. More recently, the diabetes treatment has also been prescribed “off-label” for weight loss — and is available over the counter. Its feverish popularity on social media has fueled demand to the point of shortages around the world; It’s also the slimming method du jour in Hollywood, where A-listers are now paying $1,500 a month for the promise of shedding a few pounds.
Ozempic — whose generic name is Semaglutide — works by mimicking a hormone that regulates appetite by creating a feeling of satiety. The dose is given as a weekly injection that produces an average reduction in body weight of 6 to 15 percent over the course of a year (depending on the strength). The drug grossed $3.4 billion for maker Novo Nordisk in 2020 alone, with analysts expecting sales to more than double to $7.8 billion — especially if Wegovy, a 2.4-mg Version of Ozempic approved for NHS use to reach UK in early 2023.
In countless online posts, users report how their appetite has dwindled, with the falling number on the scale lighting up in colorful fonts. Quick waist corrections have always existed. But the TikTok effect is expanding its reach further and faster than ever: an investigation of The Pharmaceutical Journal Earlier this year, the site was found to be the “worst culprit” for bombarding young people with medical misinformation online.
For obese patients, “Ozempic works well,” says GP Simon Gordon, who has been able to “lose and see a lot of weight” on many of his own [be] being able to come off meds for blood pressure… Right now it’s helping.” While it’s been effective so far, there’s reason to be cautious about touting the drug as a weight-loss panacea — especially given the turbulent pasts of others. At least 25 have been approved by medical authorities over the past six decades, only to be banned once their side effects — from heart valve damage to stroke and primary pulmonary hypertension, a potentially fatal lung disease — became clear. It’s in part this checkered history that has led to pharmaceutical companies sidestepping an easy gold mine. With 3.5 billion obese adults worldwide – rates that have tripled since 1975 – the fact that the UK was only able to prescribe one drug between 2010 and last year speaks to these ongoing fears.
Between the 1930s and 1960s, it was a different story. Huge sums of money were pumped into the development of amphetamine-based weight loss drugs, with Tenuate Dospan – one such pill known to cause side effects such as “confusion and hallucinations” – being prescribed to a certain Donald Trump in the early 1980s. Psychosis was thought to be a longer-term problem; Among the more short-term ones were “anxiety, insomnia, and delusions of grandeur.”
But the race to medically induced hair hit a low point in the following decade with Fen-Phen, a pill combining fenfluramine, an appetite suppressant, and phentermine (an amphetamine similar to speed). A single study of 121 patients reported an average weight loss of 14.2 kg over 34 weeks, compared with 4.9 kg in the placebo control group; Its popularity soared that weight loss clinics were set up just to capitalize on the demand.
Two years, six million patients, and 18 million prescriptions later, it had become “a moral tale for our time,” according to medical experts, with 30 percent of its users suffering from heart valve problems (as well as others reporting primary pulmonary hypertension). or PPH), resulting in license revocation. It didn’t come soon enough to save the likes of Mary Linnen, a 30-year-old from Massachusetts who spent three months in the hospital slimming for her wedding before dying of PPH in 1997. Tens of thousands of legal claims were filed against Wyeth, the drug’s maker, with $21 billion set aside for payouts – damage so great that the US Food and Drug Administration did not approve any new diet pills for the following decade.
Fen-Phen and Phentermine – another amphetamine-based weight-loss drug still used in the US – have been approved in the UK. But the legality of weight loss pills isn’t always a barrier to entry for those looking for quick results. Since 2013, the UK government’s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has ordered illegal diet pills worth over £4m. The compound, which is available online, has been linked to a number of deaths in recent years, including the 24- year-old father of a Liam Willis and 21-year-old college student Eloise Parry. A 2019 study for Scotland’s Food Standards Agency found that despite knowing it could kill them, 5 per cent of respondents would still take DNP to slim down; A 2017 government survey of dieters found that more than 40 percent of people took diet pills because they knew there were associated health risks. Sixty percent cited “desperate to lose weight” as their motivation, and the same number suffered from bleeding, heart problems and blurred vision from taking weight-loss medication.
Ozempic has so far proven both safe and effective – so much so that Dr. Gordon recently suggested that one of his patients, who is currently awaiting bariatric surgery, should start taking it, the surgeon refused; The drug will likely “damage the careers of surgeons who specialize in obesity,” he believes. dr Alex Miras, Consultant Endocrinologist and Clinical Professor of Medicine at Ulster University, also advocates its use in patients struggling with health problems related to obesity. But he’s “not surprised that it’s popular in both Hollywood and social media,” noting that “the UK is where the biggest prescribers of Saxenda are [the other legal weight loss drug, approved last year] are beauty salons”.
Once a slimming aid is given the green light, demand among the body-conscious can often outweigh the truly needy – which, without the intervention of a doctor, can greatly increase the potential risks. The drug is intended for use in conjunction with a healthy eating plan and exercise program, but when taken alone – and then stopped – all benefits are reversed; Medical appetite suppression alone cannot solve the global obesity crisis. And it’s also about what happens after you take the drug. An April newspaper published in Diabetes, obesity and metabolism found that those who received a 2.4 mg dose of semaglutide regained two-thirds of the weight they lost in the first year after stopping the medication, with those who lost the most weight regaining the most increased. Research has repeatedly demonstrated the dangers of yo-yo dietwith weight gain than originally lost and metabolic damage are common consequences.
A recent addition to TikTok’s Ozempic hashtaggers tells me that she started weekly injections five weeks ago after her private doctor ran a series of tests to analyze her recent weight gain and found no obvious cause. She doesn’t have a specific goal on the scale, she says — “It’s about what I’ll lose in six months. To be honest, I just want to give my weight loss a boost.” As the millions of identical hashtags attest, she’s not the only one.