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Weight loss craze triggers drug shortage

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A critical drug for type 2 diabetes, Ozempic, is in short supply as Cypriots join a new weight-loss fad taking the globe by storm, said the pharmacists association on Friday.

Ozempic is a semaglutide injected with a pen once a week to control blood sugar levels for people with type 2 diabetes, but it has also been marketed as a drug to combat extreme obesity.

The drug has gained popularity after being dubbed “Hollywood’s miracle drug” and trending on social media platforms such as Tik Tok.

However, the Cyprus Pharmacists Association warned that the trend has led to general shortages of the drug, making access difficult for people who need it.

Talking to Phileleftheros daily, the head of the association, Eleni Piera-Isseyegh, said: “There are periodic shortages, and we believe that it should be given only to people that need it.”

According to Piera-Isseyegh, the General Health System does not regulate the medicine, but to get it, people need a doctor’s prescription.

The drug does not come cheap either, as it costs €118 for a packet of four pens.

“Ozempic, as all medicines, can have side effects, and in this specific case, there could be dangerous effects to the liver, pancreas or other organs”.

She called on pharmacies to carry out strict checks and doctors to prescribe the injectable medication only for medical reasons, such as diabetes.

Director of the Pharmaceutical Services Elena Panagiotopoulou said the authority expects an increase in demand for the drug ahead of the summer season for weight loss.

“This causes concern because it could potentially pose difficulties in covering the needs of people that need this medicine for health reasons”.

The Danish pharmaceutical manufacturer Novo Nordisk recently announced it is trying to respond to the greater-than-expected demand, while the European Medicines Agency informed EU member states to take measures so the medicine is only prescribed in necessary cases.

According to the EMA, demand for Ozempic increased by 65% compared to last year.

Doctors and dieticians warn the drug does not guarantee permanent results, as studies show that although significant weight loss is achieved, once Ozempic is stopped, users regain two-thirds of the weight within a year.

Ozempic reduces appetite. Once users come off the drug, their appetite increases to previous levels.

Cypriot diabetologist Panayiotis Demosthenous said that patients undergo specific tests to establish that these individuals can receive it.

“Using the medication to lose weight without combining it with a proper diet simply gives a temporary result,” said Demosthenous.

“Ozempic is designed as a chronic treatment, it’s not an antibiotic that you take once, and it’s over.

“It is not a solution to take a drug to lose a few kilos temporarily and then, after gaining those kilos back, to proceed with a repetition of the treatment”.