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The Science Survey

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The Science Survey

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The Science Survey

Ozempic: The Mysterious Miracle Drug and Its Rise to Fame

Search for “Ozempic” on TikTok, and you could scroll for hours. Press “Hashtags,” and you’ll see “Ozempic” with 1.3 billion views.
Ozempic, in some cases, has been catered as a cosmetic drug, taken by those without medical need just to lose a couple of pounds. (Photo Credit: Diana Polekhina / Unsplash)

Often labeled as “TikTok famous,” Ozempic has been branded as a kind of miracle drug. Although originally intended to treat Type II Diabetes, it’s now catered to something drastically different: weight loss. 

In tandem with this, the use of Ozempic has skyrocketed in recent years. The drug is so craved, that according to the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, Ozempic and its sister drug, Wegovy, are in short supply. This shortage is predicted to continue through 2024, and Novo Nordisk, the manufacturer, is encouraging doctors to only prescribe Ozempic and Wegovy as a last resort. Those who require Ozempic to treat diabetes, along with professionals, are becoming concerned.

And what is the main driver of the Ozempic craze? 

Social media.

In 2017, the Food and Drug Administration approved Ozempic to treat diabetes. In 2021, the same company that manufactured Ozempic created Wegovy, a drug with a higher dose of semaglutide (the active ingredient), specifically for people with obesity. But Ozempic use has continued to rise.

One reason for this, that a writer for UC Davis Health argues, may be that Ozempic is usually covered by insurance for diabetes, making it more accessible. However, weight loss drugs, including Ozempic for off-label use, are yet to be covered. Both cost around $1,000 a month, a report from KFF states. Ozempic could be more coveted for this reason — but another contributor to its fame is social media. 

Ozempic and similar drugs have become the new trend for weight loss in Hollywood, with celebrities either advocating for its use or speaking out against it. Elon Musk admitted to taking Wegovy to keep fit, and celebrities like Remi Bader have shared their experiences using Ozempic with the public.

Continuous media exposure allowed the drug to spread past the Hollywood scene, where it’s now circulating through doctors offices, homes, and people. But although Ozempic can be effective, there’s a downside: the growth of social media presence could be turning it from a medical drug to a cosmetic one. 

Lyudmila Emag, a nurse practitioner and urologist based in New York City, meets with individuals struggling with weight. She has previously prescribed Ozempic and similar drugs to her patients. Generally, the drug has yielded positive results, with Emag stating that it’s amazing for those who need it.

But at the same time, there are those who don’t need it. “I have people asking for those drugs who are clearly not people who need [them]–they are wanting to lose 10, 15 pounds,” Emag said. She referenced how patients came in with previous knowledge of the drug through social media – the “good, bad and ugly.” 

This intake of knowledge through social media seems common. “Some people who don’t have obesity do seek out Ozempic or Wegovy to lose weight,” Dr. Susan Z. Yanovski, co-director of the Office of Obesity Research and Scientific Advisor for Clinical Obesity Research wrote. “Our society’s emphasis on thinness can lead people who don’t need the medication from a health perspective to seek it out.”

Taking Ozempic for cosmetic purposes can be dangerous. The drug is widely unstudied in individuals who have neither diabetes or obesity. Dani Blum wrote for The New York Times that there isn’t enough research on the drug to know if it’s safe for those who fall outside of F.D.A. parameters. Side effects could be more intense, and long term effects are unknown. 

Kylie Johnston, a mother of two, has been documenting her Ozempic journey on TikTok. With a following of 18.6k, her comments are filled with curious people inquiring about the drug and sharing their experiences with it. Johnston herself has been on the drug since February 2nd, 2023, starting at a BMI of 37, which classified as obese. As of October 13th, 2023, she stands at a BMI of 29.9, classified as overweight. “I feel more confident in my own skin,” she wrote to me. “I have lost 41 lbs. I feel free from the strong hold food had on me for so many years.”

Johnston first heard about the drug through TikTok, and found a community of those struggling with the same problems she had. “I started to realize that my experience was not singular. There were so many people out there…it gave me hope that I wouldn’t have to feel out of control forever.” Paying out of pocket, she obtained an off-label prescription for Ozempic, and she started to see changes. “I will utilize it as long as I need to ensure that my relationship with food stays healthy. I am raising two young girls, and I want them to grow up seeing food as fuel, not as good or bad, or constantly seeing their mom on a diet.” 

Although her results were great, Johnston also talks about the Hollywood effect. “I think the biggest downfall for Ozempic…has been celebrities. When people who are already at a healthy weight feel societal pressure to be thinner, they put a negative light on a medication that carries so much positivity.” Professionals recognize this as a problem too, with Dr. Yanovski stating, “I want to see it used more widely in people who need it to treat their obesity and diabetes and less often in people who are taking it for cosmetic reasons.” Despite these shortcomings, Johnston still perceives social media as a net positive, calling it a wonderful place to share stories and experiences concerning Ozempic. 

However, the social media craze has led to the aforementioned shortages. In response to this, compounding pharmacies have begun to create their own versions of the drug, which still contain semaglutide. “These sites are shady,” Dr. Yanovski said. “Some people are buying what they think is Ozempic or Wegovy for less money over the internet.  Often, these are called ‘compounded’ drugs — but these are not approved by the FDA as safe or effective.”

A lot of these products can be a hit or miss. “A couple of the [compounding] pharmacies I’ve tried have had a good response with no side effects,” Ms. Emag said. Her patients were generally happy with the results, and it was usually cheaper. Jeff Jonas, portfolio manager for the Gabelli Dividend and Income Trust, also labeled compounded drugs as “mostly good to take.” 

However, Jonas also highlighted how online websites will sometimes give someone a fake diabetes diagnosis as a method to ship them Ozempic, Wegovy, or compounded drugs — and the safety of users can be put in jeopardy. Dani Blum wrote for The New York Times that there was concern over compounded pharmacies creating weight loss injections using semaglutide sodium, a widely unstudied form of semaglutide. “Semaglutide sodium does not appear to meet standards for compounding in federal law, in part because the substance is not part of any F.D.A. approved medication — and officials have expressed alarm at how widespread it is.”

Despite all this, the Ozempic market is still booming. “We’re still a growth market for the next 3 – 5 years,” Jonas stated. However, he predicts the industry will flatline in the future, with little growth from that point forward. 

This makes sense. We know little about the long term effects of Ozempic, and Jonas thinks it unlikely for patients to be consistent with the drug long-term for weight loss. Nonetheless, the industry has proved itself a lucrative one, predicted to generate 71 billion dollars between 2022-2029.

In this day and age, social media can spread trends like wildfire, for better or for worse. The Ozempic industry has become a prime example of this. Through celebrity influence and TikTok hashtags like #OzempicChallenge, the drug has made its way onto people’s screens, and eventually, into their homes. 

We know the results of Ozempic can be beneficial, but every rose has its thorns – just as Ozempic has its own pitfalls. We know little about the long term effects of the drug, especially for those without diabetes or obesity. Not only that, but compounded drugs, especially in this time of shortage, aren’t always safe. 

In the coming years, advancements are anticipated. We can expect a bigger industry, more competition and somewhat normalized use. 

But for now, we can scroll through the many TikToks featuring Ozempic – our new miracle drug.

“I am raising two young girls and I want them to grow up seeing food as fuel, not as good or bad or constantly seeing their mom on a diet,” said Kylie Johnston. 


About the Contributor
Emi Hare-Yim, Staff Reporter
Emi Hare-Yim is a News Editor for ‘The Science Survey.’ What draws her to journalism is her love of crafting something beautiful - for her, it’s all about the eloquence of the piece. But at the same time, she values the craft of an engaging and factual story. It’s important to find a balance between both, as her dad says. She finds that taking pictures must also hold an element of beauty, yet have a deeper meaning to convey to the reader. She is currently on the Bronx Science Congressional Debate team, where she learns to create well rounded arguments - applicable to the creation of strong editorial pieces. In school, she pursues Social Science Research, and volunteers at her local cat shelter on the weekends. In the future, in terms of college, Emi sees herself studying all things writing. Journalism, history, social science and psychology are all probable prospects. But if nothing else, the experience of writing for 'The Science Survey' will create a long lasting impact on her writing technique for years to come.