Influencers bypass ad code to use diabetes drug for weight loss

Federal Department of Health data shows that the number of scripts released monthly for the drug has increased sixfold nationwide from 2021 to more than 86,000 in December, which is believed to be in response to its approval as a treatment for obesity. abroad.

Ozempic is a Schedule 4 drug, a prescription and restricted substance that is prohibited from being advertised to the public under the guidelines of the TGA Code.

The code is there to ensure that drug advertising is socially responsible, promotes only quality use, and does not mislead or cheat – but has a broad definition of advertising. The TGA guidelines specifically refer to when influencers in commercial relationships promote the drug because of a commercial relationship.

Heffernan said social media posts from unpaid influencers could lead to diabetes patients missing out on their medications.

“With social media, increasing the popularity of the drug… everyone [is] in the coffee shops saying, ‘Gosh, you need to start on this drug, I’ve lost five kilos in two weeks.’ †

The Sun Herald and The Sunday Era contacted 10 pharmacies in Sydney’s eastern suburbs and only one had stock. The rest had waiting lists of more than 100 people. Further calls to other areas in Sydney revealed a wider range.

Bondi Pharmacy pharmacist Pam Sack said she initially saw an increase in people buying the drug in December. Between February and April, the number of scripts being filled each day has “doubled and tripled”.

She is now sold out. “It has become so popular in off-label prescribing; they hadn’t anticipated the huge demand.”

She said she filled out Ozempic scripts for people “young and old,” noting that it was “not just people trying to fit into their bikinis,” but also people taking the drug to lose weight for health reasons.

A diabetic who was denied access to her usual Ozempic script for six weeks earlier this year said she had experienced dangerously high blood sugar and bacterial infections during that time.

While the Royal Australian College of GPs generally encourages physicians to “exercise caution” with off-label prescribing, “it should be done from time to time,” said RACGP Vice President Dr. Bruce Willett

“Sometimes a drug has good research to support its use, but the company may not have the commercial interest in getting it registered for that use,” he said, noting that off-label prescribing was often used to treat older antidepressants. provide patients with chronic pain.

“The most important thing to remember with all weight loss medications is that they are never a standalone solution.”

Associate professor Samantha Hocking, an endocrinologist and obesity specialist at the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Center, said obese people needed better access to drugs that helped weight loss.

“When people lose weight, there’s a physiological response to stop your body from losing weight, changing your hormones that control appetite,” she said. “Pharmacotherapy to support weight loss is critical.”

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Hocking said she believed Ozempic’s lower price compared to the alternative weight-loss drug Saxenda, which isn’t on the PBS, was probably why GPs chose to prescribe it.

“It’s not like people get it from TikTok or a black market pharmacy — someone decides this person needs the drug to lose weight and is willing to prescribe it off-label,” she said.

“Social media popularity is part of it, but there are probably a lot of other people who are prescribed this drug because they’ve struggled to lose weight.”

A spokesperson for the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia said he had heard “anecdotal” that the stock was slowly returning to more manageable levels, but advised people with type 2 diabetes who have trouble accessing their medication to ask for their prescription for a single one. pharmacy while they were working through waiting lists.

“Calling multiple pharmacies with inventory questions is unlikely to succeed and put pressure on the supply chain,” they said.

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