OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – By now, you may have heard about medications to treat diabetes that also come with a welcome side effect – weight loss.
Countless celebrities admit to using drugs like Ozempic, and the growing popularity has made it tough for pharmacies to keep in stock.
But now many people are turning to compound pharmacies for the so-called “skinny shot” where generic versions are being made – cutting insurance and the medical conditions needed to prescribe the drug altogether.
“There are two kinds of players – those who have to lose weight and those who have to gain weight,” Ryan Fisher said. “I was always on the lose weight side.”
And there are two categories of patients who use the game changer drug – those managing diabetes and those managing weight loss.
The drug is a semaglutide and is sold under the brand names Wegovy, FDA approved for obesity, Ozempic, approved for diabetes, and Mounjaro. The medication not only lowers blood sugar but also food cravings.
“So you’re flipping through Facebook, you see something about a skinny shot, get a shot lose weight, and you’re like, ‘sign me up’?” KFOR’s Joleen Chaney asked Fisher.
“Yep,” Fisher replied.
During his peak playing years, Ryan Fisher, a 6’1” former OU defensive tackle, hovered around 305 pounds.
“I played at OU. Ended up playing from ’96 to 2000. The last year was the national championship year,” Fisher said.
Last year, he peaked the scales at nearly 400 pounds, and in four months of semaglutide injections, he lost 100 pounds – weight loss in a syringe.
But Fisher isn’t the only one seeing results. KFOR also spoke with “Jess,” who is also a semaglutide patient.
“Years ago, I was referred to this endocrinologist regarding a thyroid issue,” Jess said.
Jess and her doctor went through year of trial and error searching for the right medication and now believe they have found it.
“She suggested that I add this semaglutide to medicines already prescribed,” Jess said. “So, we did.”
Jess pays $75 for a three month supply after insurance. Without insurance, it would be thousands.
“There was one time my pharmacy didn’t have it, because there is a shortage of the drug,” she said. “So, I had to call several pharmacies to get the medicine.”
Jacob Friedman, PhD is Director of Research at the Harold Hamm Diabetes Center. He says semaglutides are not a craze; they are a medical breakthrough.
“It’s turned out to be this blockbuster, because it has this big effect on weight, not just for diabetes but weight,” Friedman said.
Until now, drugs like insulin were the only thing available to diabetics, and the only thing this successful in treating obesity was gastric bypass.
“What’s really exciting about what it actually does is it crosses the blood brain barrier, and that’s where the weight loss comes from,” Friedman said. “It’s satiety.”
Neither Ryan nor Jess experienced any negative side effects, but that does not mean they do not exist. There have been reports of nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and risks of pancreatic, gall bladder disease, and thyroid cancer.
Another obstacle – insurance coverage for the drug.
“If this is considered such a blockbuster, why is there such a road block with insurance companies to cover it?” asked Chaney.
“That’s a big question with a lot of answers to it, but I’ll try and make it simple,” Friedman said. “It takes lots and lots of time and people, and you have to recover those costs as drug companies do, and they do so by setting the price. In this case until we get generic forms of this drug this is typically how new blockbuster drugs enter the market.”
But local clinics are finding ways to skirt around the name brand price tag and the shortage caused by the drug’s sudden demand.
“We have found a way to make semaglutide which is the molecule that other companies have branded,” Katy Walsh said.
Compound pharmacies are taking the semaglutide molecule and combining it with B6 – a generic version that is not covered by insurance. A one month supply costs about $400.
“I have had patients who were pre-diabetic, start getting the shots, actually patients with high cholesterol levels, high triglyceride levels, we repeat their blood work and their numbers come down significantly to the fact that we can actually discontinue some of their medications,” Walsh said.
Walsh is a nurse practitioner at Rapha Wellness in Moore and administers the drug to both diabetic patients and to patients who simply want to drop weight.
“Instead of being reactive in medicine we really try to focus and be proactive,” she said.
However, until the patent runs out on name brand drugs, it could be a long wait until generic versions are covered by insurance.
“It won’t come off patent for quite some time. I think the other thing that will happen will be and is really most important is insurance companies will recognize what the long term benefits are of using this drug but not having the complications of diabetes which you have to treat with other drugs,” Friedman said. “So if you think about the cost of care if you can take this drug and not have to take a hypertensive drug, a lipid lowering drug, a kidney drug and what have you, you’re going to save money. So maybe the economics of this will turn itself around such that it’s more important to get this drug to the patient and therefore maybe they’ll lower the cost.”
In 2019, the Harold Hamm Diabetes Center awarded Daniel J. Drucker, M.D. of the University of Toronto with the Harold Hamm International Prize for Biomedical Research in Diabetes.
Drucker’s research led to the development of two new treatments for type 2 diabetes that include semaglutides.
The honor comes with a $250,000 award and is presented to individuals who contribute to medical advancements in treating diabetes.