WASHINGTON, D.C. — The videos aren’t hard to find on the social media platform TikTok. The site lists videos from people promoting Ozempic, a type 2 diabetes drug with a popular side effect: weight loss.
“I think there's no question that the TikTok viral videos have drove up the demand,” said Dr. Frank Chae, medical director of Bariatric Surgery at Sky Ridge Medical Center near Denver. “Unfortunately, the TikTok trend kind of took that medication and brought it up to viral outbreak, so to speak.”
Dr Chae is one of many medical professionals who’ve noticed the surge in Ozempic’s popularity created another, potentially dangerous side effect.
“Because of the unfortunate TikTok trend, we're running out of Ozempic for diabetics,” he said, “and the manufacturers are telling us that they really won't catch up on production until maybe next year, well into 2023.”
On the CDC’s website, Ozempic is listed as “currently in shortage.”
Also in shortage is a weight loss drug called Wegovy, which includes the same hormone found in Ozempic, called semaglutide, which helps control blood sugar levels.
“It lowers our appetite by working on our brain centers and it also affects our stomach and GI [gastrointestinal] system to absorb less food,” Dr. Chae said.
That effect can lead to weight loss. However, for diabetics who can’t find their medication, it can be a problem. If left untreated, the disease itself can cause a myriad of health issues.
"It can affect the eyes, the kidneys, and the heart, and it's actually linked to certain types of cancer," said Dr. Griffin P. Rodgers of the National Institute of Diabetes, Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
The drugs themselves could have other side effects beyond weight loss. That’s why experts say it is important to talk to your doctor about buying a medication off-label—that is, purchasing it to treat a condition different than what it’s meant to be used for.
“It is not for everyone and it has to be monitored by medical professional when you're on it,” Dr. Chae said. “So, if you are thinking about weight loss therapy, please talk to your family, doctors or other weight loss specialists and they can actually sit down with you, go over your needs and your target, and prescribe the appropriate medication, and not just something you saw on TikTok.”