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Ozempic abuse poses dangerous effects

Content warning: eating disorders

At the 2023 Academy Awards, Jimmy Kimmel took the stage as the host. During his opening monologue, he said, "Everybody looks so great. When I look around this room, I can't help but wonder, 'Is Ozempic right for me?'"

While the joke was well received, it also highlighted a glaring problem: Ozempic is widely being abused to lose weight. 

Ozempic is a type of semaglutide, or an injectable medication, used to help treat diabetes. Semaglutide medications have also been found to help with weight loss and were approved by the FDA under the brand name Wegovy. However, Ozempic has quickly become the catch-all term for the drug, which can go for around $1,350 without insurance or off-prescription. However, it is becoming more accessible. 

A few celebrities have admitted to using the drug, including Kelly and Sharon Osbourne, Elon Musk and Tracy Morgan. However, others, like Oprah Winfrey, admitted to taking weight loss medications, though they did not specify which one. Rumors have begun to swirl that many celebrities and models are also on weight-loss medications.

Candice Huffine, a plus-size model and entrepreneur, said how easily these drugs can be obtained. Huffine approached her doctor about any changes she should make to her lifestyle before she turned 40. One of the recommendations was to begin Ozempic use for weight loss. Though she declined after researching the effects, the fact that she was offered it without hesitation is jarring.

A study from Trilliant Health found that only 53.8% of people who received a glucagon-like peptide 1, or GLP-1, prescription for weight loss in the past year had a history of diabetes, meaning the chances of the remaining 46.2% of prescriptions are likely abusing such drugs.

Additionally, the study states that from the beginning of 2020 to the end of 2022, prescriptions for Ozempic shot up by 300%. Wegovy was approved for weight loss in 2021, so the increase in prescriptions is not surprising but is certainly concerning.

Ozempic is so new that there is very little information out there about the long-term effects. Some side effects that have been reported include constipation, nausea and fatigue, all fairly standard. However, gastroparesis, or stomach paralysis, has also been reported, particularly in higher numbers by populations that are using Ozempic for weight loss rather than diabetes. 

There are also aesthetic risks being taken when someone uses Ozempic. The term "Ozempic face" has come into the vernacular, referencing what happens to someone's face after using Ozempic over an extended period. Due to the loss of fat in the face, the skin loses elasticity and begins to sag, making individuals look older than they actually are. 

To counter this, facelifts and fillers have been suggested to users. However, these can cost a large amount of money, about $9,281 on average. Furthermore, these options still carry the typical risks of surgeries, not the least of which is a face that does not look natural.

A study from JAMA Network found that roughly 1 in 10 people under the age of 18 have used some sort of non-prescription and potentially harmful weight loss drug in their lifetime. These glaring statistics highlight a big issue: a large amount of young and healthy people are abusing weight loss drugs, and prescriptions are far too readily available. 

This also makes it much easier for people with eating disorders to access drugs that will only further alter their distorted body image and threaten their lives. It has been found that users of Ozempic and Wegovy can potentially lose, on average, 35 pounds over a 68-week period. So, when combined with disordered eating habits, its impact could be incredibly dangerous. 

In 2023, about 4,000 prescriptions of semaglutide, sold under the brand names Wegovy and Ozempic, were written for children ages 12 to 17. This opens the door for more young people to develop eating disorders, long-term health issues, and drug dependencies.

One of the other largest issues with Ozempic usage is the fact that it prevents people with diabetes from accessing it. There has been a diabetes drug shortage for quite some time now, and it is being worsened by the abuse of Ozempic for weight loss. 

Unfortunately, with the extreme demand for the drug, it is not getting much better for people with diabetes. For example, Health Canada has stated while efforts are being made to increase the amount available, it will likely be some time before the supply catches up with the demand. 


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