Given the huge demand for Ozempic, a blockbuster drug for diabetes and also off-label for weight loss, it’s not uncommon to know someone who is starting or already taking the drug.
Data from Novo NordiskThe company that makes Ozempic suggests that U.S. health care providers were writing about 60,000 new prescriptions for the drug each week as of April. However, given that the drug is relatively new, can cause side effects, is uninsured and is expensive, far fewer patients take it for years.
Barbie Jackson-Williams, 54, of Des Moines, Iowa, said she started taking Ozempic in early 2021 to lose weight and manage her type 2 diabetes. She said the drug helped her make changes she had previously found difficult, such as cutting back on her old favorite pasta and eating leaner protein, and cutting out sugary iced coffee from her diet.
“People just take it to lose weight, and that’s not true,” she says. “You have to work and people don’t realize it.”
NBC News has identified and interviewed seven people who have been participating in the Ozempic for one-and-a-half to two-and-a-half years. All generally agreed that the drug was not a shortcut to good health. They said that while Ozempic helped them lose weight, lower their blood sugar levels, or both (the reasons people take the drug vary), it takes effort to maintain that change.
“It’s not a silver bullet or a drug,” said Edward Mathias, 45, an IT worker in Connecticut. “This is not a fountain of youth.
Matthias said he still needs to be careful about eating foods high in sugar and carbohydrates because he is diabetic. However, he said his weight dropped from about 310 pounds to 230 pounds while taking Ozempic.
Most of those interviewed said that, rather than being a panacea, Ozempic was an impetus for lifestyle changes, such as allowing them to exercise in ways they could not before.
Jackson Williams said she feels more energetic and less sedentary after losing weight.
“I want to be active. I want to do something. I can’t sit and watch TV like I used to,” she said.
Ozempic and its sister drug Wegobee are approved for weight loss in overweight people with obesity or weight-related medical conditions and are considered long-term or lifelong treatments. But Ozempic is less than six years old and Wigoby is less than two years old, so doctors and patients are learning in real time what it’s like to use the drug long-term.
Dr. Eduardo Grunwald, an obesity physician at the University of California, San Diego Health, said he was awaiting the results of trials to see if Ozempick and Wegoby reduce the risk of heart disease, as was the case with another weight-loss drug in the same class, Trulicity.
The drug may also reduce bone density and increase the risk of thyroid cancer, which has been detected in animal studies involving Ozempic, Grunwald said.
“Will millions of patients taking these drugs develop such symptoms?” he asked. But most likely, he said, “probably still outweighs the risks.”
Ozempic may enable people to exercise more
To manage his prediabetes, Arnob Alam says he does 30 minutes of cardio most days, increasing from two to three times a week before attending Ozempic, but has also started lifting weights.
“You have to adjust your diet and exercise.
Jackson Williams credits his 180-pound weight loss to a combination of taking Ozempic and working out. She used to use an oxygen mask and sleep in a recliner because she weighed over 400 pounds and could not breathe when lying down.
“Even just walking from my apartment to my mom’s car, I have to sit for 10 minutes to catch my breath,” she said.
Jackson-Williams now walks around the track and uses a cross-trainer at the gym. Her blood sugar has dropped to her pre-diabetic level and she no longer needs oxygenation.
“I used to be dead from the waist down. Very dead. But not now,” she said.
However, some people said they gradually gained weight when they stopped exercising or ate more than usual during the Ozempic.
Aram said she takes the drug to control her blood sugar and shed extra pounds, but has regained about 17 of the 25 pounds she initially lost since starting the drug. Aram said his travels and return to the office had disrupted some of his healthy routines, but he still feels nimbler.
Grunwald says many people taking Ozempic or Wegoby lose weight easily at first, but eventually their bodies resist further weight loss. In any case, he said the healthiest thing to do is to exercise and eat well at the same time as you take your medicine.
“These drugs should be used with lifestyle modifications. If you need to watch your diet or exercise while taking the drugs, that’s what the drugs are for,” Grunwald said.
Ozempic made healthy eating easier for many
Long-term users of Ozempic have said that the drug has reduced their cravings for fatty and sweet foods and has almost eliminated the urge to eat indiscriminately.
Kimberly Tabor, who takes Ozempic for type 2 diabetes but has struggled with severe obesity for years, said she changed her family’s diet before starting the medication and didn’t notice a significant weight loss until she started taking Ozempic.
“I was working all the time and had a small child, so I stopped doing things for myself. Then I started eating fast food that I could microwave or put in the oven because I felt like I didn’t have time,” she said.
She said she now has better control over her snacking and eats less.
Seraphina Ruskin, general counsel for weight-loss company Found, which offers online consultations for medicines such as Ozempic and Wegobee, said she found taking Ozempic easier than the diet she had been relying on. She said that before she never ate soda or fast food, but now eats pasta on the weekends. Foods I used to avoid.
“It’s the first time in my life that I feel like I have some leeway without eating perfectly,” said Ruskin, who takes Ozempic off-label for weight control. “I’m no longer restricting my carb intake, and my brain signals, ‘Oh, I’ve had enough.’ I don’t need to eat anymore. ”
Of course, people who have had a good experience taking Ozempic and have minimal side effects are most likely to stick with it long-term. Those interviewed said they now had few side effects, but others reported vomiting, fatigue, headaches and stomach cramps that forced them to stop taking the medication.
Challenges to maintain weight loss
Both Ozempic and Wegoby are versions of semaglutide, drugs that lower blood sugar and suppress appetite by mimicking the hormone that signals the brain that you are full. As with many drugs, the effect does not last after the patient stops, so people tend to: regain most of the weight If you stop taking the medicine, you lose.
Dr. Grunwald said many patients have the false impression that they can stop taking Ozempic or Wegoby once they reach their target weight. He also says that some people mistakenly believe they are not making progress when they see their weight plateau.
“A lot of people think the drug doesn’t work anymore,” says Grunwald. “It works great. Otherwise I would have put the weight back on.”
While there is still much that is unknown about the long-term effects of Ozempic and Wegovy, similar drugs may provide insight.of the study In the percentage of people taking the weight-loss drug Saxenda, about half of those who lost at least 5% of their body weight after one year took the drug in combination with regular exercise and a low-calorie diet and maintained their weight three years later.but Only 25% of patients treated with Saxenda in 2021 remained on the drug for more than a year, according to the data From Novo Nordisk.
The high price tag and lack of supply can be a challenge for those looking to stay at Ozempic for an extended period of time. The Food and Drug Administration reports limited availability. 3 minimum doses of Wegovy and Highest Ozempic Dose. Without insurance, medicines can cost upwards of $1,000 a month.
Wendy Tell, a former teacher in Yorktown, Virginia, said she wasn’t sure she could afford to continue the Ozempic treatment she takes primarily to treat type 2 diabetes. Even though she has Medicare, she said she is currently paying over $700 for 90 days due to coverage limitations on her prescription plan.
Teru said she was afraid to undo the 25 pounds she had lost.
“I’m in a dilemma,” she said. “Should I get it again? Because who has that much money?”