KANSAS CITY, Mo. — New drugs are being touted as magic pills providing hope for people who have struggled with weight issues their entire lives, but there are some serious questions to ask.
Three new injectable drugs developed for Type 2 diabetes patients are also helping people lose weight. In some cases, they are helping people lose a lot of weight.
The drugs are in such demand that they made a combined profit of nearly $10 billion last year. They are expected to make even more this year.
Husband and wife Jarryd and Amber Lasater said they have struggled with getting to a healthy weight.
“We’d lose a little bit here, a little bit there. It never really stuck,” Amber Lasater said. “So for me, I was to the point if I lost 20 pounds, I was gonna be happy.”
Ten months ago, their doctor put them on the diabetes injectable drug Mounjaro.
They said that was the turning point for them. Amber has now lost 65 pounds. Jarryd dropped nearly twice that much while on the medication.
“I’ve never weighed this in my adult life,” Jarryd Lasater said.
Katie Davidson struggled with her weight following thyroid surgery. She said she ate healthy, counted calories, cut portions. She stays active running after two kids and working on her family farm.
“I think there’s a lot more to weight gain and obesity than calories in versus calories out ’cause it just wasn’t adding up,” Davidson said.
Then she started taking a drug called Semaglutide. You’ve heard it advertised as Ozempic.
“I think this last month I’ve lost 10 pounds,” Davidson said.
Advertisements for the three injectable type 2 diabetes drugs claim they are changing the weight loss world.
Wegovy was approved for weight loss two years ago. Ozempic and Mounjaro are on track to get FDA approval for weight loss this year, but doctors already prescribe them off label.
How they work
They all work in similar ways.
“They all kind of work by making you feel a little bit more full, so they’re kind of slowing down your digestion, so kind of stopping you from eating too much,” Dr. Erin Taylor, University Health, said.
The feeling of fullness is what patients say they notice the most when taking one of the drugs.
“I didn’t get as hungry. IT was an appetite suppressant for me more than anything and I didn’t need to eat as much,” Jarryd Lasater said.
The staff at University Health Weight Management says these drugs are not a quick fix to lose a few pounds. Instead, they are a long-term treatment for people with chronic obesity and co-morbidities.
Some patients, like Jarryd, lose the weight quickly. Others, like Katie, take longer to drop pounds.
“You really have to stick with it and just be patient cause I almost gave up. I was like, ‘This is expensive. This isn’t working. Is this really worth it?’ and I thought, ‘Well, I’ll just keep trying and see what happens,” Davidson said.
Price and Popularity
The drugs are expensive. Doctors say the price depends on your diagnosis and your health insurance.
“They are all expensive. Most of them are over $1,000 for a month’s supply, if you are paying cash for it. Insurance, if it covers it, makes it pretty manageable, you know, the copays are less than $100 and coupons can bring it down to $25 or I’ve seen even $0, so yeah, a lot of times we’ll get them down to $0 for a patient for these medications,” Taylor said.
Data from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services shows gross spending on Medicare for Ozempic surged between 2018 and 2021, from about $57 million spent in 2018 to roughly $2.6 billion spent in 2021.
That’s a nearly 4500% increase in spending on the drug in just three years.
“I mean, people are calling, people are coming in, looking for the drug, asking if we have any in stock,” Taylor said. “We’re transferring it from different pharmacies because we have some in stock and I think some of the bigger chain pharmacies are having trouble keeping it in stock cause they have just a higher patient population.”
“With our weight management clinic here, we are starting to see more prescriptions come from them for these medications so yeah, it’s just very high demand right now.”
Doctors also warn about side effects.
“Side effects include just your main GI side effects, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, constipation is what you’re going to expect with that, but they do get better after you’ve been on it for a little bit longer so just allow your body to get used to it,” Taylor said.
Some side effects like kidney or gallbladder problems are rare, but have also been also reported.
“Yeah, it did mess up my gallbladder. They say it’s pretty normal for anybody that has a rapid weight loss, that it can mess up your gallbladder, so mine decided to go wonky and I had to get it removed,” Amber Lasater said.
Even with the price and side effects, all three say the drugs are worth it. They say they’ve lost weight, but have also seen improvements in cholesterol, blood sugar, blood pressure and joint pain. All three say they exercise more and sleep better.
“I’m starting to recognize myself in the mirror again. That’s been nice,” Davidson said.
All three say the weight loss motivated them to build habits to keep the weight off for good.
“I’m also working three to four times a week on the treadmill. We both have changed our diet so I’m hoping it’s not something that’s just going to come right back really quick,” Jarryd Lasater said.
They say even if they have to stay on a low-dose of the medication long term, they finally feel some hope.
“I have talked to a lot of people and I say all the time to people, ‘If you have ever struggled with your weight, I want people to get it because it is a life changer,'” Amber Lasater said.
Questions to ask
There are questions to ask your doctor before agreeing to take the medication.
- Risks of other health problems you face because of obesity
- Will the drugs interact with medications you’re already taking
- Discuss your personal and family health history
Supply shortages are also a problem. Pharmacists say it is an issue with many medications right now, not just these three injectables. Experts, like Dr. Taylor, expect production of the drugs to ramp of this year to meet demand.
FOX4 also asked if using these drugs for weight loss prevents people who are diagnosed with diabetes from getting them.
The University Health Weight Management Medical Staff said if patients with chronic obesity don’t lose weight while taking the medications, they have a higher chance of developing type 2 diabetes. If that happens they will need the drug anyway, so this is about disease prevention.