Some doctors are warning against using a drug meant to treat type 2 diabetes for weight loss after some patients said it helped them lose 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 drug reported weight loss as a positive side effect, according to Fox 35 Orlando.
People without diabetes became interested in using the drug for weight loss after news of its perceived benefits circulated on the social media platform TikTok.
“You definitely decrease your appetite and feel full most of the time, and you don’t really crave sugar because you don’t get the sugar high or sugar low,” Dr. Richard Lehman, a sports orthopedic surgeon, told Fox 35.
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In 2021, the drug was approved by the FDA under the name Wegovy to help eligible patients with obesity lose weight. Those seeking treatment were required to have a BMI greater than 27 with at least one weight-related condition or people with a BMI greater than 30.
According to the FDA, the largest clinical trial showed that people taking Wegovy lost an average of nearly 13% of their starting body weight.
The FDA’s findings have led people looking for a quick way to drop a few pounds to find doctors willing to prescribe the drug “off-label,” meaning it’s used for a condition other than the one for which it’s approved.
“It’s as close to magical weight loss as we have right now,” said Lehman, who has prescribed the drug to his athletes to help them shed a few pounds. “These athletes, in 7 to 10 days, started to lose weight. You can’t eat all you want and not exercise. You have to stick with the regimen.”
Doctors warn that the benefits may be short-lived, especially if the patient has an unhealthy diet, lack of exercise or health education.
“You give them something and they promise it will work. And sometimes it will work because they think it will. But what happens after that? You can’t be taking 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 that she gets an injection once a week and has lost 20 pounds in eight weeks. She said that she has never tried anything so effective.
“I have to buy new clothes and everyone at work comes up to me and tells me how good 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 lose weight. He stressed that it’s not for people outside of that group looking to drop pounds here and there.
“Patients taking these drugs off-label, for misuse, let’s say recreational purposes essentially, are doing so at their own risk,” Kaplan said, calling it a “buyer beware type of scenario.”
Other side effects include pancreatitis, gastrointestinal problems, and gallbladder problems, among others.
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“I’m definitely more of a fan of patients who want to lose weight sitting down with a dietitian, an exercise physiologist, doing things the right way. And then if they fail initial therapy, then medication can be discussed. helps with weight loss,” Kaplan said.
The shot, if given once or twice a week, can cost between $500 and $700 per visit, according to Lehmann.
Ultimately, the price will vary from clinic to clinic. Insurance could lower the cost for those who qualify for the drug.