Some doctors are warning against using a drug intended to treat Type 2 diabetes for weight loss after some patients said it helped them shed a few pounds.
Approved by the FDA in 2017, the diabetes treatment sold under the name Ozempic helps lower blood sugar, but many patients prescribed the medication reported weight loss as a positive side effect, according to Fox 35 Orlando.
People without diabetes became interested in using the medication for weight loss after news of its perceived benefits made the rounds on social media platform TikTok.
“You definitely decrease your appetite, and you feel full pretty much all the time, and you don’t really crave sugar because you don’t get the sugar high or sugar low,” Sports Orthopedic Surgeon Dr. Richard Lehman told Fox 35.
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In 2021, the drug was approved by the FDA under the name Wegovy to help eligible patients dealing with obesity to lose weight. Those seeking treatment had to have a BMI over 27 with at least one weight-related condition or people with a BMI over 30.
According to the FDA, the largest clinical trial showed people taking Wegovy lost an average of nearly 13% of their initial body weight.
The FDA’s findings have led people wanting a quick way to drop a few pounds to find doctors willing to prescribe the drug “off label,” which means to use for a condition other than for which it has been approved.
“It’s as close to the magic weight loss as we have right now,” Lehman said, who has prescribed the drug to his athletes to help them drop a few pounds.”These athletes, in 7 to 10 days, started to lose weight. You can’t just eat as much as you want and not exercise. You have to follow the regimen.”
Doctors caution that the benefits can be short-lived, especially if the patient has an unhealthy diet, lack of exercise or health education.
“They’re given something, and they’re promised that this will work. And sometimes it will because they believe it will. But what’s going to happen after that fact? You cannot be on a drug for the rest of your life,” said Jeremy Avner, co-owner of Nuvia Medical Weight Loss Clinic in Lake Mary, Florida.
Avner’s clinic prescribes the drug to some of its patients.
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One patient, who remained anonymous, told Fox 35 she receives an injection once a week and has lost 20 pounds in eight weeks. She said she has never tried anything as effective.
“I have to buy new clothes and everybody at work is coming up to me and telling me how great I look,” she told the outlet.
Dr. Ben Kaplan, a primary care physician at Orlando Health who treats patients with diabetes and obesity, said the drug is intended to help high-risk patients with weight loss. He emphasized it is not for people outside that group looking to shed pounds here and there.
“Patients who are taking these medications off-label, for the wrong use, for let’s say recreational purposes essentially, they’re doing it at their own risk,” Kaplan said, calling it a “buyer beware type scenario.”
Other side effects include pancreatitis, gastro-intestinal issues, and gall bladder issues, among others.
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“I’m definitely more of a proponent in patients who want to lose weight to sit down with a dietitian, an exercise physiologist, do things the right way. And then if they fail that initial therapy, then you can have a discussion about medication help with weight loss,” Kaplan said.
The injection, if received once or twice a week, could cost between $500 and $700 per visit, according to Lehman.
Ultimately, the price will vary from clinic to clinic. Insurance might be able to cut off the cost for those who qualify for the medication.