Doctors in Belgium are being urged to stop prescribing the drug Ozempic – which regulates diabetes patients' blood sugar levels – to people without the disease, as there is an imminent shortage as a result of people using it to lose weight.
Ozempic is used by patients with type 2 diabetes to help regulate their blood sugar levels – but it also has another use: many people use it to help them lose weight, according to the president of the Diabetes Liga, Luc Buyse.
"There is scientific evidence that the drug works for losing weight, but it is not recognised for that in Belgium," he told VRT.
While non-diabetes patients can also get the drug in Belgium, it is only reimbursed in the context of diabetes, explained Michael Storme of the General Pharmaceutical Association. "But it is also prescribed by some doctors to lose weight."
According to farmastatus.be, a website that published general information about different types of medicines, different doses of the Ozempic medicine are currently "temporarily unavailable" in Belgium.
The unavailability is partially due to people using it to lose weight, but that is not the only reason, according to Storme. "It is also prescribed much more for diabetes than before, because it is a lot more patient-friendly than other drugs as it has to be administered less frequently."
The drug has become so popular that a shortage is now on the horizon. "About three weeks ago, the company that distributes the medicine, Novo Nordisk, therefore called on all doctors to stop prescribing Ozempic for overweight and obese people without diabetes. We are now launching the same appeal," said Buyse of the Liga.
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While there is an alternative to Ozempic, patients who are used to this medicine would prefer not to switch to another one, and instead continue the same treatment.
"Additionally, you cannot just change the production of these type of drugs in the blink of an eye," Buyse added. "The manufacturer is not prepared for non-diabetes patients using it like this and absolutely did not seek it. It started via social media when people who were prescribed the drug started advertising it."
"People then go to a doctor who prescribes it for them as well," he said, adding that he hopes this appeal will now stop this trend.