Hollywood puts appearances above all in fad injections of diabetes drug
Troubling but perhaps predictable news is traveling from a vanity trend-setting capital of this country: Hollywood stars have made the taking of a relatively new prescription drug, targeted for the treatment of diabetes, into a fad.
The injectable drug semaglutide, whose brand name is Ozempic, has become a must-have among A-listers because of one of its important outcomes among most users: dramatic weight loss. As Variety, one of the entertainment industry’s leading trade-media sources, reported about Ozempic:
“The drug is an insulin regulator for the pre-diabetic, made by the Danish pharma juggernaut Novo Nordisk, whose primary side effect is dramatic weight loss. It has saturated the industry in recent months, helping the beautiful and wealthy shed extra pounds in the never-ending Los Angeles pastime of optimizing appearances. Hollywood nutritionist Matt Mahowald tells Variety that the chief benefits of the injections are ‘moderating and pulling back insulin secretion and slowing down your stomach from emptying. It promotes satiation from food.’
“One top powerbroker told Variety that half of her call sheet last week was full of friends and clients wanting to discuss the risks of Ozempic, which has claimed devotees from every corner of the industry. Moguls, reality starlets, veteran film producers and, of course, actors are quietly singing the drug’s praises on Signal, the encrypted messaging app mostly used for confidential conversations. Hair, makeup, and styling teams for celebrities have come to accept the injections as part of grooming rituals ahead of major events. In a matter of months, it has become the worst kept secret in Hollywood —especially given that its most enthusiastic users are not pre-diabetic and do not require the drug. It is currently being supplied by doctors and nutritionists, though rumor has it you can also score the drug at medical spas in Arizona. Naturally, it ain’t cheap. ‘It’s easily going to be $1,200 to $1,500 per month. If you go out and buy an Ozempic pen from a pharmacist, that’s what you’re getting charged,’ Mahowald adds.”
Variety reported that insurers are trying to crack down on unfounded claims for coverage for the pricey treatment, which is in such demand that it is causing problems for those for whom it is intended and who suffer a chronic, serious disease:
“’It’s become a huge problem, everyone jumping on this bandwagon. The insurance companies are refusing to cover this for anyone who is not diabetic. It’s led to panic. Pharmacies have units on back order through December,’ adds Mahowald. More concerning, according to numerous reports, is that an overwhelming demand is leaving those who need the injections grappling with a reduced supply. A second version of semaglutide called Wegovy, which specifically targets obesity, is also making the rounds and seems to be scarcely available.”
Ugh. In my practice, I see not only the harms that patients suffer while seeking medical services, but also the damages that can be inflicted on them by dangerous and bankrupting drugs, notably of the prescription variety.
There’s no question that too many Americans struggle with obesity (this is true for 4 out of 10 of us, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says). And excess weight imperils Americans’ health, contributing significantly to their problems with diabetes, as well as leading killers like heart disease, and cancer. It’s good news that medical science is advancing our knowledge about dealing with the rising problem of diabetes as well as biological processes that affect appetite, food consumption, and weight.
But the quest for pharmaceutical magic solutions always carries big risks. In the 1990s, real harms occurred with the fad prescribing of the weight-loss drug combination nicknamed Phen-fen. In recent years, heavily promoted diet and pound-shedding prescriptions have disappointed and embarrassed doctors and patients, with one notable med having flatulence and explosive diarrhea as unexpected side-effects. Some patients reported in clinical trials of the new diabetes drugs that they experienced nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, and constipation, causing doctors to discontinue them on the meds.
West Coast celebrities also are experiencing some unpleasant side effects from new diabetes meds, but the image-conscious apparently are fighting through these in hopes of seeing the reported and maximum shedding of 15% of their body mass, Variety reported.
This is a dubious and less than healthy target, to be sure, in folks who already strive to be wraith thin as part of their sometimes lucrative and often highly influential professional lives. Stars and starlets, many of whom are diminutive in stature to start, could hit their hoped-for (but unneeded) weight loss goals by better managing careful diet and exercise regimens, Variety reported.
Translation: skip those sketchy health short cuts, folks.
That might be a good idea for all of us, rather than, frankly, undertaking risky off-label use of meds. And what are Hollywood doctors, by the way, up to in prescribing diabetes drugs to their fit but weight-conscious patients? Hmm.
We have much work to do to ensure the safety, access, affordability, and effectiveness of all prescription drugs, and we have more ways to go to find solutions to the nation’s struggles with excess weight and the medical conditions it fosters.