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The Ozempic craze: San Antonio doctor talks popular weight loss drug

San Antonio Express News logo San Antonio Express News 3/16/2023 Elena Bruess
© Chronicle Staff

When it comes to weight-loss trends, the word on everyone’s lips these days is Ozempic. 

It’s that so-called miracle drug that everyone from Tik-Tok influencers to celebrities have announced taking to lose weight quickly.

The drug has been around since 2017 to treat diabetes. And since 2021, it's also been prescribed to treat obesity under the name Wegovy. The active ingredient in both – called semaglutide – lowers blood sugar levels and regulates insulin, and also prompts stomachs to empty more slowly, leaving people with decreased appetite and a lingering feeling of fullness. 

Studies have found the drug is effective for patients with diabetes, obesity and some cardiovascular diseases.

But people without any of those conditions recently have been asking their doctors for prescriptions to lose weight. 

Carolina Solis-Herrera, an endocrinology specialist at University Health and the endocrinology medical director at UT Health San Antonio, said the drug is not meant for people who are already at, or near, a healthy weight. Few studies have examined the effect the drug has on such patients. 

“Our recommendation for people at a healthy weight is just keep up a healthy lifestyle, which involves regular exercise and plenty of vegetables, less processed foods,” Solis-Herrera said. “And for those who are obese or have diabetes, it’s more reasonable to reach out to a physician about lifestyle changes along with medication.” 

But people who are looking to shed pounds fast and decide to take injections of Ozempic or Wegovy, or the tablet form, called Rybelsus, should be aware that the drug only lasts as long as you take it. Just like blood pressure medications, when someone stops taking the drug, the benefits stop. In the case of Ozempic, the hunger will return and the weight could come back. 

“If someone is at a perfectly good weight, but still uncomfortable with their body, these drugs are not for them,” Solis-Herrera said. “They may want to try counseling to better understand that.”

Some of these patients – the ones already at or close to a healthy weight – are paying a bundle for the drugs. Without diabetes or obesity – which the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the drugs for – the cost can range from $800 to $1200 a month without insurance, and some insurers may not cover the prescriptions for people without those conditions. 

Recently there had been a shortage of the drugs, but Solis-Herera said that's not because of the new weight-loss trend. A piece of the Wegovy injection device – its spring – was in short supply, prompting patients to move over to Ozempic to continue taking the semaglutide. Because of that switchover, supplies of Ozempic had been scarce. 

In the past couple of weeks, however, production of the drugs is nearly back to normal, and many patients have been able to receive their prescriptions of Ozempic or Wegovy. 

With all this talk about weight loss and diabetes, Solis-Herrera said San Antonio residents should always speak with a health-care professional about these matters. 

“If you are worried about your weight or have other health concerns, go to your doctor or other healthcare professional,” she said. “Then you can find out what works best for you.” 

Elena Bruess writes for the Express-News through Report for America, a national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms. |


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