The popularity of Ozempic’s off-label use for weight loss is driving a global shortage of the diabetes drug. Pharmacies have been reporting shortages around the U.S., Canada and Europe. On Nov. 14, 2023, Belgium banned Ozempic for weight loss until the summer of 2024.

“Identifying viable alternative medications becomes imperative,” Akshaya Srivatsa, founder and CEO of prescription discount company Care Better, told Drugwatch. “Substituting Ozempic with alternative options may be challenging, and patients facing this situation may experience disruptions in their treatment plans … and overall health.”

Manufactured by Novo Nordisk, Ozempic is one of three FDA-approved semaglutides, along with Wegovy and Rybelsus. Only Wegovy, also a Novo Nordisk product, is FDA-approved for weight management.

However, Wegovy shortages soon followed that approval in 2021, and doctors began prescribing Ozempic for off-label use. Ozempic is only FDA-approved for treating Type 2 diabetes.

Health care technology solutions company DrFirst reported a 150% increase in semaglutide prescriptions written on its network between December 2022 and June 2023. DrFirst has 350,000 prescribing doctors and other health care providers in the U.S.

“People with obesity have long struggled to control their weight, and new medications, including semaglutide and others, have been game changers for many,” Dr. Colin Banas, DrFirst’s chief medical officer, said in a statement.

The demand for off-label weight loss treatment comes as some people taking it have filed Ozempic lawsuits claiming the drug led to gastroparesis (stomach paralysis). They allege the drug can cause severe vomiting lasting for a month or longer.

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Impact on Diabetes Patients

People who’ve relied on Ozempic to treat their diabetes may face difficulty adjusting to alternatives if the shortages persist.

“The shortage of Ozempic, driven by its off-label use for weight loss, can have significant consequences for patients with diabetes who genuinely need the medication,” Dr. Kezia Joy, medical content advisor for online health care provider Welzo, told Drugwatch.

It can take time to adjust dosages and treatment with alternatives.

“For these patients, it may mean compromised well-being and an increased risk of diabetes-related complications,” Joy said.

Long-Term Fixes for Ozempic and Wegovy Shortages

The shortages of Ozempic and Wegovy show no signs of a quick resolution. Wegovy has been on the FDA’s drug shortage list since March 2022, shortly after its approval for weight loss. Novo Nordisk’s CEO said in August 2023 that, because of rising demand, the shortages could persist for years.

Novo Nordisk says it’s “building capacity to meet this increasing demand” for weight loss treatments. The company said on its website that it has “solid plans in place” for increasing its manufacturing capacity “in the coming years.”

In the meantime, Novo Nordisk advises patients to refill their prescriptions well before their usual schedule to help mitigate the impact of these shortages.