Given the immense demand for Ozempic, the blockbuster drug that treats diabetes and is also prescribed for weight loss, it’s not unusual to know someone who is starting or already taking the medication.
Data from Novo Nordisk, which makes Ozempic, suggests that US providers were writing around 60,000 new weekly prescriptions for the drug as of April.
But far fewer patients have been on the drug for years, given that it’s relatively new.
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Barbie Jackson-Williams, 54, from Iowa said she started taking Ozempic in early 2021 to lose weight and manage her Type 2 diabetes.
She said the medication has helped her make changes that she’d previously found challenging, like subbing out pasta — her old favourite — for lean proteins and cutting out sweetened iced coffees from her diet.
“People are just taking it just to get skinny and that’s not true,” she said.
“You have to do the work, and people don’t realise that.”
Barbie Jackson-Williams lost 180 pounds while taking Ozempic. Credit: NBC
NBC News identified and talked with seven people who have been on Ozempic for between one and a half and two and a half years.
All generally agreed that the medication was not a fast pass to good health.
Although Ozempic has helped them either shed the kilos, lower their blood sugar levels or both, maintaining those changes takes effort, they said.
“This isn’t a magic bullet or pill,” Edward Matias, 45, a Connecticut resident said.
“It’s not the fountain of youth. It takes work and commitment. If people are asking for this med because they want to lose weight and think they can eat anything at all, they’re in for a rude awakening.”
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Matias said that because of his diabetes, he still has to be careful about eating foods high in sugar or carbohydrates.
But his weight has dropped from about 310 pounds (140kg) to 230 (104kg) while taking Ozempic, he said.
Most of those interviewed said that rather than being a cure-all, Ozempic has kick-started lifestyle changes, such as enabling them to exercise in ways they couldn’t before.
Jackson-Williams said that losing weight has led her to feel more energetic and less inclined to be stationary.
“I want to be active. I want to be doing stuff. I can’t sit and watch TV like I used to,” she said.
Ozempic and its sister medication, Wegovy — approved for weight loss for people who are obese or overweight with weight-related medical conditions — are considered long-term or lifelong treatments.
But Ozempic has been on the market for less than six years, and Wegovy for two, so doctors and patients are learning in real time what it’s like to use the drugs for extended periods.
Matias has been on Ozempic for a year and seven months. Credit: NBC
Dr Eduardo Grunvald, an obesity medicine physician at UC San Diego Health, said he’s waiting on the results of trials to see if Ozempic and Wegovy reduce the risk of heart disease, as is the case with Trulicity, another weight-loss medication in the same class.
There’s also a possibility the drugs might lower bone density or raise the risk of thyroid cancer, which has been detected in animal studies involving Ozempic, Grunvald said.
“Are we going to see that pop up with millions and millions of patients on these medications?” he asked. But most likely, he said, the benefits “probably still outweigh the risk.”
Ozempic may enable people to exercise more
To manage his prediabetes, Arnob Alam said he does a 30-minute cardio workout almost every day — an increase from two to three times a week before he started Ozempic — and has started lifting weights.
“You still have to make adjustments to your diet and exercise. But it does prevent overeating because you do get sick if you eat too much,” said Alam, who works for the Defense Department in Washington, D.C.
Jackson-Williams credits her 180-pound (81kg) weight loss to a combination of taking Ozempic and working out. She previously weighed more than 400 pounds (180kg), used an oxygen mask and slept in a recliner because she couldn’t breathe while lying flat.
Ozempic has been linked to major weight loss in some users. Credit: Sunrise
“Just walking out from my apartment to my mom’s car, I’d have to sit for 10 minutes just so I could catch my breath,” she said.
Now, Jackson-Williams said, she walks around the track and uses the cross-trainer at the gym. Her blood sugar dropped to prediabetic levels and she no longer needs oxygen support.
“I used to be dead from the waist down. Very dead. But I’m not now,” she said.
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