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Ozempic—how drug bosses profit from our insecurities

A new weight loss trend has skyrocketed demand for diabetes drug Ozempic. But with pharmaceutical bosses holding patents and a monopoly on production they only care about the money rolling in, argues Sophie Squire
Issue 2842

Ozempic branded semaglutide injection used for treating diabetes is the new diet fad. (Picture: BlkAshli/Twitter)

A new weight loss trend is here, and it’s called Ozempic. 

Ozempic is a drug used to treat diabetes by lowering blood sugar levels and regulating insulin. But supplies are falling short as many are using it as a quick way to lose as much as 15 percent of their body fat. 

Demand for the drug skyrocketed last year, leading to a worldwide shortage. Ozempic is the brand name for a drug that’s main component is semaglutide. It can help those with type two diabetes treat their illness and reduce the risk of them suffering heart attacks and strokes

The drug can also make users feel fuller for longer and cause their stomachs to empty slower, making it an effective drug for weight loss. Higher doses of semaglutide have been approved to offer to patients in the US and Britain to treat obesity since 2021 under the brand name Wegovy. 

After global shortages of Wegovy began in March of last year, Ozempic was increasingly used for its off-label use of weight loss. 

Shortages of both drugs have been met with anger from those reliant on them to treat their illnesses. Patient Caroline O’Connell wrote on Twitter, “There is now a global shortage of Ozempic due to people using it as a vanity weight loss drug rather than for type two diabetes or obesity. 

“I’ve been prescribed an alternative that I have to inject every day instead of once a week.” Anger has mostly been levelled at individuals who want to use Ozempic to lose a few pounds, even when their weight isn’t currently impacting their general health

And, rightfully, people are angry that only the rich can now afford the soaring prices of these drugs. A quick look online and you’ll find 12 weeks’ worth of Ozempic available for as much as £435. 

But the rising demand for drugs like Ozempic doesn’t come from nowhere. It comes from the crushing pressure on all of us to conform to society’s beauty ideals

We are bombarded with images, videos and articles about glamorous celebrities and influencers. The message is always that ordinary people should aspire to look like them—or condemn them if we don’t fit rigid beauty ideals. 

Their body types can become “trends” we feel compelled to follow. But getting their “perfect bodies” is only possible if you buy the right products, whether that’s a diet plan, gym membership or Ozempic. 

And blaming individuals for shortages not only obscures why people might seek out this drug, but also lets the pharmaceutical industry off the hook. Ozempic and Wegovy are made by the Danish company, Novo Nordisk. 

The company currently has 25 patents on Ozempic and is the only company in the world that can manufacture semaglutide. This means that just one company has almost total control over the production of the drug. 

If Novo Nordisk can’t keep up with demand, then no other company can make up for it. If it wants to raise its prices, it can. 

Monopolising the production of these drugs has helped the profits of Novo Nordisk accelerate in the last decade. It recorded a $38.93 billion net worth in 2010. In January of this year, that had soared to $308.49 billion. 

While Novo Nordisk has said it doesn’t “promote, suggest, or encourage” off-label use of its medicines, the bosses don’t really care about who gets their drugs as long as sales stay high. And so the real winners in the Ozempic shortage are the bosses, who simultaneously profit off our insecurities and profit again when we get sick.

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