Two tiktok users sharing their thoughts on diabetes medication side by side.

Australia’s Diabetes Medication Shortage Is More Complicated Than A TikTok Trend

Critical diabetes medication supplies have run out in Australia, but experts say people are wrong to purely blame social media. Words by Charles Rushforth

By Charles Rushforth, 12/1/2023

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Australia is currently experiencing a shortage of vital diabetes medication, but while some are quick to blame TikTok diets that frame medications like Ozempic as a miracle weight loss drug, the factors behind the shortage are more complicated.

In July last year, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) issued a statement warning people living with diabetes that there was a medication experiencing an “unexpected increase in demand”. 

Aside from ongoing global supply issues caused by the pandemic, TGA officials attributed the surprise uptake of drugs like Ozempic and Trulicity to renewed “off-label” prescriptions — where doctors prescribe a medication to a patient group outside of the drug’s approved range.

As shortages worsened, reports of a celebrity “wonder drug” began to circulate – with Variety reporting in September that Hollywood stars were rushing to use the drug Ozempic as a  weight-loss tool. 

As the notoriety of the drug rose after endorsements from Telsa CEO Elon Musk – and speculation that A-listers like Khloe Kardashian were using the drug to stay in shape – late last year the TGA announced that supplies of Ozempic in Australia had completely dried up and would remain unavailable until April 2023.

Issuing a warning for people living with diabetes on medication in Australia to “immediately have their treatment reassessed” by a doctor, the TGA blamed the spread of weight loss videos on TikTok for triggering “a huge demand for the product that the manufacturer was not prepared for”.  

The Uptake Of Diabetes Medication In Treating Weight Loss Isn’t TikTok’s Fault

Australia’s deficient Ozempic supply poses a significant risk to people living with forms of diabetes that are resistant to other forms of medication, leading many to become angry at those perceived to be using the drug outside of its approved patient group. 

Junkee writer Merryana Salem was frustrated to learn of the Ozempic shortage after being diagnosed with insulin resistance. 

“I’m lucky as my condition isn’t as serious as people I know who rely on Ozempic to control their diabetes, but knowing I can’t receive the best available treatment for my condition because of the shortage is still very distressing and frustrating,” Salem said. 

Speaking about the rise of off-label prescriptions, group leader of the Obesity Research Group at the University of Melbourne Dr Priya Sumithran stresses that it is not “fair or accurate” to blame social media trends or Ozempic’s effectiveness as a weight-loss drug for Australia’s supply shortages of diabetes medication. 

“Social media is obviously important in raising awareness of certain available treatments. But ultimately, doctors are prescribing these medications to their patients, where they are considered the best treatment to improve that person’s health,” Dr Sumithran told medical publication InsightPlus. 

“I don’t think that we can just blame TikTok for the demand. The demand is high because there’s a whole lot of people, whether they have diabetes whether they have obesity without diabetes, that really need effective treatments.” 

“These effective treatments came onto the market and people are using them.”

Ozempic Won’t Cure Anti-Fatness

While similar medications like Wegovy and Mounjaro are poised to enter Australian markets pending TGA approval this year, Clinical psychologist Louise Adams and former President of Healthy At Every Size Australia told Junkee that consumers seeking weight loss medication should consider weight-inclusive healthcare models first – which applies on a holistic care approach with nutrition and psychology rather than unnecessary focus on weight.

“The whole message of weight-inclusive care is that nothing, nothing only happens to larger people. Everything that can go wrong with our health happens to people of all sizes.” 

Warning that extreme dieting can lead to eating disorders and other health risks, Adams blames the pharmaceutical companies for subtly marketing their diabetes drugs as weight-loss tools for the current supply crisis. 

“It’s completely incompetent of them at best and at worst evil for them to repurpose their diabetes drugs for a profitable weight loss market and leave people who genuinely need medication without it,” Adams told Junkee.  

While people living with diabetes are encouraged by Diabetes Australia to make an appointment with a GP to consider other medications if they’ve been affected by the shortages, Adams urges those who have purchased the medication purely for weight loss to also consider weight-inclusive healthcare models in their treatment.

“Before considering anything radical that’s gonna change your body size, consider the reasons that you think you need to change your body size in order to be either happy or healthy.”

If you’re experiencing symptoms of an eating disorder, please call the Butterfly Foundation on 1800 334 673 or chat with someone online.

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