Wegovy shortage drags on, leaving patients in limbo

When Mark Basa needed his next fix of Wegovy, he ran through a list of 10 CVS stores within a 25-mile radius of his home in Peekskill, New York, and hit them all. In the 10 weeks that he couldn’t find the medication, he gained back the 8 pounds he had lost on the medication and his blood sugar rose. He felt himself getting out of breath more often. His shirts are tighter.

It was anxiety-inducing, Basa, 37, said. It was like, well, I’m never going to lose this weight.

Wegovy has appeared on the Food and Drug Administration’s drug shortage list since March 2022. But doctors and patients say the situation has worsened in the months since Novo Nordisk, the Danish company that makes the drug, limited the availability of the three highest doses. Wegovy casualties. . With demand increasing faster than supply can keep up, the measure effectively slows the pace of people starting the drug because patients must start on a low dose that is gradually increased. The shortage has fueled widespread frustration among potential patients, as well as those like Basa who need to refill their prescriptions or risk gaining weight back.

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This created hell, said Dr. Andrew Kraftson, clinical associate professor in the division of metabolism, endocrinology and diabetes at Michigan Medicine.

A Novo Nordisk representative wrote in an email that the drugmaker anticipates continued disruption in supply of these three doses as demand continues to outstrip production. The company had no estimate of how long they will continue to limit these doses.

The tube is closed, said Dr. Scott Hagan, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Washington who studies obesity. Hagan sees patients with severe arthritis who need hip and knee replacements and who are above the body mass index threshold for surgery. Wegovy could help them lose enough weight to have surgery, he said, but not if they can’t start the medication.

What happens when people can’t find Wegovy?

Wegovy is an injectable version of a compound called semaglutide, which slows stomach emptying and, in turn, makes people feel full faster and for longer. It also targets areas of the brain that regulate appetite, reducing cravings and silencing what some people call eating noise.

New patients start by injecting themselves weekly with the lowest dose of Wegovy for a month. After that, they can increase the dose monthly until reaching the maintenance dose.

When people stop taking Wegovy, they often gain the weight back. And when patients can only access medication in fits and starts, they can end up with weight cycling, a term researchers use to describe weight fluctuations that can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Some patients end up temporarily taking older weight-loss medications like Saxenda as a stopgap measure, but these alternatives are much less effective and can bring new side effects, Kraftson said. Others may end up trying to obtain semaglutide from compounding pharmacies, which can present a series of dangers and complications. Patients may want to switch to Ozempic, but this can also be difficult to find.

Padmaja Akkireddy, an endocrinologist at Nebraska Medicine, said that when patients stop taking Wegovy for more than a month, she starts them back on a lower dose, which can be disappointing for people looking to lose more weight, faster.

Others, like Ali Husain, tried to find alternative solutions. Husain, 51, started medication in March to reduce the weight he had gained at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. In June, he was only able to find larger doses in stock. When his pharmacy accidentally sent him the highest dose after going weeks without the medication, he decided to measure his own lower doses. But after he went back on the medication and reached a higher dose, the side effects shook Husain, who vomited so intensely that his stomach hurt for days.

One reason patients are advised to follow the strict dosing schedule is to avoid side effects.

With a higher dose, there is more weight loss but also more side effects, Hagan said. People may also experience more side effects if they use and stop medication, Akkireddy said, because their bodies struggle to recalibrate.

Husain’s doctor decided to put him back on a lower dose to mitigate his side effects. Hours before speaking to The New York Times, Husain received a message from Walgreens. He was exhausted.

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