CHARLESTON, WV (WVNS) – A drug used to treat Type 2 diabetes has become wildly popular due to one of its side effects: weight loss.

Demand for semaglutide, the generic form of brand name drugs Ozempic, Wegovy and Rybelsus, has soared over the past year, according to pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk, the Danish manufacturer of the drug.

Non-diabetic patients trying to lose weight are also driving the growing demand.

“A year ago I didn’t feel like there was as much interest. In the past six months, people asking about Ozempic and how it works and if they’re a candidate has really increased a lot.”

New York plastic surgeon Dr. Jennifer Levine

Endocrinologist Dr. Gregory Dodell, of Central Park Endocrinology also said he has seen an increase in inquiries from patients about Ozempic. He regularly prescribes it to patients with Type 2 diabetes, but is hesitant about using it for weight loss. 

“It works while people are taking it, but once people stop they gain back two-thirds of the weight they lost if not more, and sometimes weight loss plateaus so people have to go off or stay on it definitely.”

Endocrinologist Dr. Gregory Dodell, of Central Park Endocrinology

The reason for the popularity of Ozempic and other forms of the same drug is because of its role as an appetite suppressant. The medicine has an unintended effect of sending signals to the brain that the stomach is full. This has led to patients interest in its viability as a weight-loss drug. Doctors are interested in the possibility too, prescribing Ozempic and others to patients for the purpose of weight-loss.

In 2021, the FDA even approved Wegovy as a treatment for chronic weight management. Wegovy contains a much higher dose of Semaglutide than the other brands, and ran short itself after an increase in demand for it.

The shortage of Wegovy, the demand for Semaglutide, and the growing numbers of people needing the medication for both weight-loss and Diabetes led to a cascading supply crisis for Ozempic, Wegovy, and others.

Diabetic people taking Ozempic have had to use leftover sample sizes or switch to insulin, and others looking for weight loss solutions have been stonewalled. Is there an end to the issues surrounding Semaglutide in sight?

The short answer is yes.

When Wegovy first became hard to come by, however, many patients who relied on the drug for weight loss turned to Ozempic. That in turn constrained supplies of the diabetes drug.

Despite the shortage, Wegovy is now widely available, according to the FDA. Novo Nordisk said in a statement that it took “significant measures” to ensure adequate supply of the drug in the U.S. this year.

Likewise, Ozempic supply is on the rise in other countries like Australia, although it is still in high demand and short supply.

In response to the shortage, providers have been prescribing other GLP-1 agonists to their patients, such as the following:

  • Dulaglutide (Trulicity), injected weekly
  • Tirzepatide (Mounjaro), injected once weekly 
  • Liraglutide (Victoza, Saxenda), injected daily 
  • Exenatide (Byetta), injected twice daily
  • Semaglutide (Rybelsus), taken orally once daily 
  • Lixisenatide (Adlyxin), injected daily 

If you have Diabetes, these alternatives may be available. Always check your health insurance to see if alternatives would be covered, as coverage can depend on the brand and how your health insurance company covers different products. If you do switch to a different medication, be aware that some are taken weekly, daily, and some twice daily.