You’ve likely seen the flurry of celebrities, from Chelsea Handler to Elon Musk, admitting to using Ozempic, a drug typically prescribed to manage type 2 diabetes, but you might be wondering what it is, whether it works and if it’s even safe. We’ll be taking a deep-dive into the risks involved, the dangers of diet culture and whether Hollywood’s love affair with the drug has led to a worldwide shortage.
What is Ozempic used for?
Ozempic is a prescription medication that is used to improve blood sugar control in adults with type 2 diabetes. It contains an active ingredient known as semaglutide – this stuff works by mimicking the activity of a hormone called glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1). This hormone helps regulate blood sugar levels by stimulating the release of insulin and suppressing the release of glucagon, the hormone that raises blood-sugar levels. The drug is usually administered as an injection once a week and may be used alone or in combination with other medications. Along with improving blood sugar control, Ozempic has also been found to help with weight loss in diabetics, thereby reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease in people with type 2 diabetes.
It’s that last element that has sent hordes of people – most notably, celebrities – seeking a prescription for the medication to reap the weight loss benefits. Here’s where the problem arises.
The problem with using Ozempic solely as a weight-loss dug
There’s a global shortage of this drug – and this includes Australia. The reason? Off-label prescribing of Ozempic for the purpose of cosmetic weight loss – the shortage first cropped up in Australia in 2022 when suppliers struggled to meet the increased demand for the drug. The shortage has now been going for a year, with the Therapeutic Goods Association in Australia declaring the drug would remain unavailable until at least the end of March. Part of the soaring off-label use of Ozempic can be blamed on rumours and truths around celebrities using the drug. From Elon Musk to Chelsea Handler, a number of famous people dished on their reliance on the drugs for weight loss, with Musk claiming his appearance is the result of fasting and using Ozempic.
However, some celebrities – from The Good Place’s Jameela Jamil to talk show host Andy Cohen – have spoken out against the use of these drugs and how it may affect people’s body image, wellbeing and mental health, along with fuelling diet culture.
"We tried this in the 90s and millions of people developed eating disorders," Jameela Jamil said.
Andy Cohen similarly noted the excessive use of the drug in a tweet.
Photo credit: @Andy on Twitter
Comedian Chelsea Handler revealed she didn’t even know she was taking the drug.
“I didn’t even know I was on it,” she said on the Call Her Daddy podcast.
Handler said her doctor prescribed it to her without informing her it was a drug used for type 2 diabetes, indicating how widespread the issue is with prescribing Ozempic for off-label use.
The side effects and risks
It’s also worth noting this drug is not without risk – and if you don’t need it, you may be better off finding another method to lose weight. While it’s generally a safe medication, it’s important to have the supervision and guidance of a doctor before diving in. Some common side effects include:
- Nausea and vomiting
Another effect of Ozempic is that it slows the emptying of the stomach, leading to feeling of early fullness – this is part of the reason people lose weight. It’s also why it’s not necessarily safe to use these drugs as weight-loss tools, as it can affect your ability to meet your daily energy needs.
While doctors may recommend certain drugs to help control diseases like obesity, using Ozempic for the purpose of a cosmetic, short-term weight-loss tool is not advised as these drugs weren’t designed with this usage in mind. It can not only lead to dangerous, adverse effects, but many will find they gain the weight back after stopping the drugs.
One of the major issues raised here is that these drugs are being used by people in a healthy weight range – reflecting a culture that demands thinness over healthiness. While it’s especially pervasive in Hollywood, those expectations leach out into the wider world, leading to the trends we’re seeing here with an uptick in the use of Ozempic. And, of course, we know that the use of these drugs for this cosmetic purpose is affecting availability for those who need it most – type 2 diabetics.