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Ozempic, Wegovy drug prescriptions hit 9 million

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A pharmacist displays boxes of Ozempic, a semaglutide injection drug used for treating type 2 diabetes made by Novo Nordisk, at Rock Canyon Pharmacy in Provo, Utah, U.S. March 29, 2023. 

George Frey | Reuters

U.S. health care providers wrote more than nine million prescriptions for Ozempic, Wegovy and similar diabetes and obesity drugs during the last three months of 2022, according to a new analysis released Wednesday.

The report, from analytics firm Trilliant Health, shows that quarterly prescriptions for those drugs increased 300% between early 2020 and the end of last year.

Novo Nordisk‘s weekly diabetes injection Ozempic accounted for more than 65% of total prescriptions as of the end of 2022, and was primarily prescribed off-label for its ability to help patients lose weight. 

The data further confirms the rise in demand for that group of drugs, which have fueled a frenzy among Americans and on Wall Street for their ability to cause significant weight loss. Those treatments, known as GLP-1s, mimic a hormone in the gut to suppress a person’s appetite. 

But the rate of future prescription volumes will largely depend on whether manufacturers of those drugs, Novo Nordisk and Eli Lilly, can resolve widespread supply shortages affecting most of their treatments in the U.S., among other factors, according to the report.

The analysis is based on insurance claims data for about 300 million Americans. Among the other drugs prescribed are Eli Lilly’s diabetes drug Mounjaro and an older GLP-1 drug from Novo Nordisk called Saxenda, which isn’t as effective for weight loss as Ozempic and Wegovy.

But the total number of GLP-1 prescriptions is likely an undercount since some health plans don’t cover weight loss treatments like Wegovy, leaving some patients to pay for them out of pocket. 

Some people, such as Hollywood celebrities and billionaire tech mogul Elon Musk, are wealthy enough to pay for the drugs themselves. 

Ozempic’s list price tops $935 per monthly package, and its weight loss counterpart Wegovy is about $1,300. The drugs are meant to be taken indefinitely to keep weight off, just like cholesterol-lowering drugs or blood pressure medications that have to be taken for life. 

Other drugmakers are jockeying to capitalize on the budding weight loss industry. And analysts say Eli Lilly’s Mounjaro has the potential to overtake drugs from Novo Nordisk after its approved in the U.S. for weight loss. 

More than two in five adults have obesity, according to the National Institutes of Health. About 1 in 11 adults have severe obesity.

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