For several months, videos showing women injecting Ozempic, a drug for patients with type 2 diabetes (the most common form of the disease) have been spreading on social media. On Tik-Tok, videos with #ozempic have hundreds of millions of views. But the videos are promoting it for a different purpose than regulating diabetes – at a higher dose, this drug makes you lose weight.
Ozempic (whose active substance is semaglutide) is marketed by the laboratory Novo Nordisk and has been approved in the United States since 2017 and in France since 2019. It is a so-called GLP-1 analog (a natural digestive hormone that helps control blood sugar levels), which was originally only intended to stimulate the release of insulin in diabetics. But it has another property: It slows down the rate at which food leaves the stomach (“gastric emptying”), leaving you feeling full and reducing your appetite.
In a joint press release on Wednesday, March 1, the French National Agency for the Safety of Medicines (ANSM) and Assurance Maladie (French public health Insurance) state that Ozempic will be subject to “enhanced surveillance” in France. “Reports from the field indicate that Ozempic is being misused by non-diabetics for weight loss purposes,” they said, emphasizing that its use should be reserved for treating diabetics.
Since September, the drug agency has been alerted by the videos on social media and also by pharmacists reporting forged prescriptions and use for weight loss in non-diabetics. “We knew that Ozempic can be misused to lose weight but we wanted to quantify the problem,” explained Isabelle Yoldjian, director of drugs in oncology, cardiology and endocrinology at the ANSM.
The facts are clear. The health agency and Assurance Maladie report that between October 2001 and October 2022, some 600,000 patients received a GLP-1 analog, including 215,000 patients receiving Ozempic. “Of these, 2,185 Ozempic recipients can be considered non-diabetic according to Assurance Maladie estimates,” she continued. This represents potential misuse to date of 1%.
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This enhanced surveillance was decided on following consultation between the ANSM, Assurance Maladie, health professionals (physicians, pharmacists) and patient associations. In concrete terms, sales and reimbursement data from the national health data system will be monitored, as well as reports of non-compliant use and adverse drug reaction reports to drug safety monitoring centers.
“This will put pressure on doctors and pharmacists, and it’s a good way to control prescriptions in a context of supply shortages,” said Jean-François Thebaut, president of the French Federation of Diabetics. At the end of September, the association called on health professionals to restrict the prescription of Ozempic to diabetics already on this medicine.
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