Ozempic Explained

by | Diet and Weightloss, You ask we answer

Dr Gary Deed

General Practitioner

What you need to know about the so-called weight loss wonder drug

Ozempic is a prescription medication in such high demand it’s facing a worldwide shortage.

Last month, the Therapeutic Goods Administration announced it is unlikely to be available in Australia until April 2023. Commonly prescribed to Type 2 diabetes patients, Ozempic made headlines this year as it gained popularity among non-diabetic patients on a mission to lose weight.

Its meteoric rise in popularity has been fuelled, at least in part, by social media, where before and after photos, weight loss video diaries and Ozempic tips have garnered more 309 million views on TikTok alone.

“It is a phenomenon but remember the audience for some of these are not the broad patient base we see utilising these medications,” explains Dr Gary Deed, Chair of the RACGP Specific Interests Diabetes. “Information from social media may be correct or incorrect but requires a health professional to filter this into individualised education and action for each patient.”

So, is it really the silver bullet the Ozempic TikTok army make it out to be?

We spoke with Dr Deed to learn the side effects, efficacy and what to do if you’re affected by the Ozempic shortage.

How does Ozempic assist weight loss?

“Ozempic semaglutide is an analogue of a gut hormone that regulates insulin responses to food,” explains Dr Deed. It works by increasing and improving the body’s insulin response to food which is why it’s most commonly prescribed to type 2 diabetics.

“It has been shown to have some positive effects in Diabetes patients with respect to cardiovascular risk reduction,” says Dr Deed.

But it’s the drug’s other common side effect that has triggered the shortage. “It also affects stomach emptying (it delays it) and also central brain centres regulating appetite,” says Dr Deed. “It is weight losing, so may assist those with diabetes who are overweight or obese.”

How is Ozempic taken?

“Ozempic semaglutide comes in liquid form, and is needs to be administered once weekly,” says Dr Deed. The injection is most commonly administered in the lower abdomen by the patient at home.

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What are the side effects of Ozempic?

There are a number of common side effects, including diarrhoea and/or constipation.

“Due to delayed stomach emptying, there is nausea that may be significant,” says Dr Deed. “We are cautious in people with gallbladder disease as weight loss itself may induce further stone production.”

While there has been some discussion around its impact on thyroids, it remains speculative. “This has not been shown in any clear way in humans,” says Dr Deed.

Why you can’t get your Ozempic prescription?

In November 2022, the Therapeutic Goods Administration in Australiaannounced Ozempic would not be available until as late as April 2023.

“The supply restriction is difficult to manage on a health professional and also individual patient basis as it interferes with best practice management,” says Dr Deed.

As a result of the shortage, other diabetes medications, such as Dulaglutide (known as Trulicity), are also facing short supply. “The uptake of this drug indicates that there are gaps in our management of obese patients not just with diabetes but with limited weight focussed options,” says Dr Deed.

What should I do if I can’t get my Ozempic prescription?

If you are regularly prescribed Ozempic – for diabetes or to simply manage your weight – the first step should be speaking to your doctor.

“Speak to your GP first or health team to get support as needed,” advises Dr Deed.

“People managing their weight or obesity need to know there are other options available to them – not on PBS – that may help support them during this time.”

The key takeaway? Don’t panic but speak to your GP or specialist.