Diabetes drugs being used for weight loss leads to shortage in UAE market

Doctors warn against self-medicating with Mounjaro and Ozempic without medical supervision

A pharmacist displays boxes of Ozempic, a drug used for treating Type 2 diabetes. Reuters
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High demand for diabetes drugs that also help with weight loss has resulted in a shortage in the UAE.

Over-the-counter medication Mounjaro (tirzepatide) and Ozempic are taken to treat Type 2 diabetes but they can also work as appetite suppressants.

Enthusiasm on social media, driven largely by celebrities and influencers, over their use for weight loss has led to a global shortage.

Makers of Ozempic and Mounjaro said stocks were being replenished but many local pharmacies have said their supplies are low. Some in Dubai and Sharjah are completely out of one or both drugs.

The medication can reduce the weight by 10 to 15kg within two to three months but under a doctor’s supervision
Dr Monther Al Saad, Al Madar Medical Centre

Roshan Abdul Hameed, head of retail at Burjeel Pharmacy, said they are out of stock of Mounjaro, which costs Dh1,734. The price of Ozempic 1mg — enough for four weeks — is Dh1,200.

“There was a huge demand for the two injections. Mounjaro is out of stock while there are a few Ozempic injections," Mr Hameed told The National.

"We are in touch with suppliers to get the medication but it's immediately sold.

“It is not a cheap price for the medications but people are ready to spend this amount of money for weight loss.

"Genuine diabetes patients can’t get the medication because it’s sold quickly.”

The National contacted several pharmacies in Dubai and Sharjah who all confirmed that Mounjaro is out of stock and that only a few injections of Ozempic are available.

A branch of a well-known pharmacy in Sharjah said it has been out of stock of Mounjaro for three weeks.

“I received four phone calls today from people asking for Mounjaro. It is out of stock in the pharmacy,” the pharmacist said.

“Even Ozempic is rare. We only have the 0.25mg injection.”

Doctors have also noticed a shortage in stocks. They have warned against taking the drugs, which are available without a prescription, without medical supervision.

Dr Monther Al Saad, a consultant gastroenterologist and endoscopist at Al Madar Medical Centre in Sharjah, said like all medications, they can have side effects, such as nausea, diarrhoea, constipation, headache, dizziness and fatigue, conditions that tend to improve over time as the body adjusts to the medication.

“The injections help for weight loss as it works to suppress appetite, but patients should discuss the potential risks and benefits of the injections with their healthcare provider before starting treatment,” Dr Al Saad said.

“The medication can reduce the weight by 10 to 15kg within two to three months but under a doctor’s supervision. It is not a replacement for obesity surgeries.”

Dr Maged Shurrab, a family medicine specialist and chief medical officer at Al Tadawi Speciality Hospital, said people should be assessed as to whether they are suitable or not.

“The problem is people going directly to the pharmacy and buying the drugs without visiting a doctor can cause a major risk to their lives as people with certain cases can't take it for weight loss,” Dr Shurrab said.

“People with inflammation of the pancreas, cancer, lumps or bumps in the thyroid gland can’t take Mounjaro or Ozempic. That means not everyone who wants to lose some weight is eligible to use them.”

People who use Mounjaro or Ozempic should also introduce dietary, exercise and lifestyle changes to avoid gaining weight in the future.

“These injections are a temporary treatment for weight loss,” Dr Shurrab said. "After stopping the medicine, the weight will be back if the person didn’t change the lifestyle by practising sports and having a proper diet."

Farah Saad, an Iraqi housewife said that she lost 13kg of weight since January after her doctor advised her to use Mounjaro.

“It is like magic,” she told The National. "The doctor told me Mounjaro has the minimum side effect and I started at 84kg in January this year and so far I lost 13kg.

“It is an easy way to lose weight. I will use it for an extra month to reach a reasonable weight and after that will follow a diet and change my lifestyle by going to the gym.”

Updated: April 07, 2023, 10:28 AM