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People with diabetes struggle to find Ozempic as it grows in popularity as a weight loss aid

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Tammie Rachell Largent-Phillips, 52, has type 2 diabetes. For the past two years, she has managed the condition using a drug called Ozempic, which helps people with diabetes keep their blood sugar levels in check.

But in November she was forced to switch to another drug, insulin. The Ozempic she needed was no longer available at her pharmacy.

In recent months, demand for the drug has soared, clashing with global supply problems. Together, this led to the shortage of Ozempic.

But the popularity of Ozempic, or semaglutide, is not due to rising rates of diabetes. Rather, it’s because of its weight-loss benefits, doctors say. At a higher dose, semaglutide is used for weight loss. Manufacturer Ozempic Novo Nordisk sells this higher dose under a different brand name: Wegovy.

Wegovy shortages, also very popular, were widespread last year. As a result, some people who were taking Wegovy were prescribed off-label Ozempic for weight loss. That’s causing problems for people like Largent-Phillips, who need the drug to manage their chronic illness.

“It’s been really frustrating,” Largent-Phillips of Florida said of the shortage, adding that her blood sugar levels have fluctuated because she’s had to switch medications.

In people with type 2 diabetes, the body does not use insulin properly. Insulin is a hormone that tells the body’s cells to absorb glucose, or sugar, from the blood. If the body doesn’t use it well, that sugar stays in the blood, resulting in high blood sugar levels.

Ozempic works by mimicking a hormone in the body that regulates insulin levels. It’s a type of medicine called a GLP-1 agonist. The medication is self-administered weekly as an injection.

Without medication, people with type 2 diabetes are at risk for blood sugar spikes that can lead to serious health problems, including heart disease, kidney disease, hearing loss and stroke.

“Even in the short term, people can feel unwell from high blood glucose levels,” said Dr. Robert Gabbay, Chief Scientist of the American Diabetes Association.

A shortage of supplies of Ozempic has meant that some patients have to go to multiple pharmacies before finding the drug, said Dr. Marcio Griebeler, an endocrinologist at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. In other cases, he said, patients were forced to take a lower dose because that was all that was available.

That’s not “ideal,” Griebeler said, because patients may not respond the same way as they did on the higher dose.

For those who can’t find the drug, the only option is to switch to another drug, which may not be as effective, said Dr. Susan Spratt, an endocrinologist and senior medical director at Duke Health’s Office of Population Health Management in the north. Carolina.

That’s what Shane Anthony, 57, of Seattle, had to do. He has type 2 diabetes and hasn’t gotten Ozempic since October.

Anthony was prescribed a different medication, but he said it’s not as effective. His wife, Gerilynn, who is a registered nurse, said her blood sugar levels had risen again since she left Ozempic.

“It really drives me crazy; it infuriates me,” said Anthony. “We need it to keep us alive and functioning on a daily basis.”

Switching to another drug also complicates things when Ozempic becomes available again.

Going back to Ozempic isn’t always a simple adjustment, Spratt said; because it can come with side effects such as nausea or vomiting, patients are usually given a lower dose that is gradually increased over several weeks.

“To go back to using the drug, you have to start all over again,” she said, “and that’s really painful.”

Dr. Disha Narang, an endocrinologist at Northwestern Medicine Lake Forest Hospital in Illinois, said she sees patients “every day” who were taking Ozempic and then found their pharmacy was out of stock.

Some patients have been lucky to find samples in doctors’ offices, she said.

But others stopped taking their medication altogether, she said, causing their blood sugar levels to spike.

The shortage has been difficult for patients and doctors alike, she added.

“We don’t necessarily have control over the supply chain,” she said, adding that doctors act as a kind of intermediary between patients and the drugs they need.

Novo Nordisk, the company that makes Ozempic and Wegovy, told NBC News that availability of Ozempic has improved, but supply issues still remain.

Allison Schneider, a spokeswoman for the company, said in a statement that Ozempic is currently available in certain dosages for type 2 diabetes, however, the company is still experiencing supply issues that will last into the month and patients in some US regions experience delays. in obtaining your medications.

“Anyone concerned about continuing treatment should contact their doctor,” she said.

Largent-Phillips of Florida — who has been documenting her experience on TikTok — said that, for now, she needs to be vigilant about monitoring her blood sugar levels.

She said she doesn’t blame the people who are using it for weight loss for the shortage, but the manufacturer and the supply chain.

She noted that there are many people besides her who need this medicine to control their illnesses.

“This is awful,” she said.

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