Semaglutide (Ozempic) is part of a class of drugs for type 2 diabetes known as GLP-1 agonists. Their additional weight loss benefits have led them to popularity — and caused shortages. Here’s what you need to know.
There are many medications available for people with type 2 diabetes that help to manage blood glucose levels in different ways. In the past, you may have tried several of them, and even different combinations of them. Simply put, some medications help to secrete more insulin, and some help your body listen better to the insulin it produces.
One class of medication for treating type 2 diabetes is known as glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1) agonists.
GLP-1 is a hormone that’s naturally produced in your small intestine. This hormone is naturally released after a meal and provides the signal for your pancreas to release insulin. This can be a pathway that is ineffective in people with type 2 diabetes, which is why GLP-1 agonists are helpful.
GLP-1 agonists include medications such as Ozempic and Wegovy, which have soared in popularity recently due to celebrities and people on social media boasting about their weight loss benefits. Unfortunately, this has led to shortages, affecting people with diabetes who need them most.
Here’s everything you need to know about these medications and what to do if you’re struggling to get your prescription filled.
GLP-1 agonist medications improve your glucose control by helping your body make more insulin and listen to the insulin it’s making. They also slow gastric emptying, leaving you feeling fuller with less food and for a longer period of time after eating, which can lead to weight loss. Since you’re eating less overall, high glucose levels after eating are less frequent, which leads you to have a lower average glucose over time or a lower hemoglobin A1C.
The first GLP-1 agonist, exenatide (Byetta), was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in April 2005 for the treatment of type 2 diabetes. Since then, several medications have been added to this cutting-edge drug class. It has even been suggested that these be considered first-line therapy to treat type 2 diabetes.
The list of medications in this class includes:
The newest medication, and most promising for weight loss and obesity treatment, is tirzepatide (Mounjaro). Approved in May 2022, this is the first dual-acting GLP-1 agonist with a GIP component. GIP is a hormone that’s also produced in the small intestine and helps the body produce more insulin in conjunction with GLP-1.
GLP-1 agonists are all typically given by injection on a daily or weekly basis. Common side effects can include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and constipation, but these are more common when starting or increasing your dosage. Some people also report injection site pain or redness. Always talk with your healthcare team prior to starting or stopping a dosage.
Weight loss associated with GLP-1 agonists has been so significant that TikTok influencers and celebrities in Hollywood have caught on. “Post-Ozempic body” is now a popular term on social media and blogs, and people like Elon Musk and Kim Kardashian have been associated with using these medications off-label.
Semaglutide (Ozempic) has been available for treating type 2 diabetes since 2017, but the FDA approved it for weight loss in 2021 under the name Wegovy. Since then, Wegovy has been in short supply, with many people turning to Ozempic for off-label use. This then trickled down to Mounjaro after its approval in 2022.
The weight loss effects of these medications may not even be long-term. According to a recent study from August 2022, a year after stopping once-weekly tirzepatide, participants gained back two-thirds of the weight they lost.
Still, the demand for medications like Ozempic, Wegovy, and Mounjaro has risen so much that the FDA has listed shortages for all three. This directly affects people with type 2 diabetes, who may have experienced trouble finding a pharmacy with their medication in stock.
It’s not clear when the shortages will resolve, but pharmaceutical manufacturers say early 2023.
Getting your prescriptions filled over the last few months may have been quite complicated. If you take a GLP-1 agonist to manage type 2 diabetes, here are some things you can do to help get your prescription filled.
GLP-1 agonists have revolutionized the medical treatment options for both type 2 diabetes and obesity. While the effects of these medications are significant, high demand and off-label use have led to shortages, with no definite end in sight. People with type 2 diabetes who are unable to find these medications in their local pharmacy should speak with their healthcare professional about alternatives.
Medically reviewed on January 31, 2023
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