Depression and hopelessness
Representative Image Reuters

People who took weight-loss drugs such as Ozempic and Wegovy have reportedly been having suicidal thoughts, a Reuters investigation has found.

Novo Nordisk's Ozempic is a diabetes medicine which has been approved for weight loss. Several film personalities have been using Ozempic to lose weight. In fact, the drug became so popular in the US that several pharmacies reported a shortage last year. It costs around $1,300 a month in the US.

The report cited US Food and Drug Administration data and claimed that the agency has received as many as 265 reports of suicidal thoughts or behaviour in people who have been taking such medicines over the years.

In fact, European regulators have launched an investigation into the matter. The FDA is also looking into these reports.

However, the experts say that every drug has its own side effects. "This doesn't mean to automatically blame the drug," Thomas J. Moore, faculty associate at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told the publication.

"It does mean that a patient's complaint should not be automatically dismissed," he added.

The big picture:

Wegovy, Ozempic or other weight loss drugs are not magic pills. They have side effects such as nausea, stomach pain, vomiting, and diarrhoea.

If one takes Ozempic, the lost weight could also come back once people stop taking the drug. Several reports have claimed that people gained back around two-thirds of their lost weight within two years of stopping it.

The drug works by suppressing the appetite of the user and mimicking the hormone glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1), which is released after eating. It essentially makes people feel fuller.

Has the UK approved any such drugs?

The UK National Health Service (NHS) has begun prescribing the weight loss drug Wegovy to a limited number of people who fulfil certain criteria.

Limited stocks of the drug arrived in the UK last week. The drug, also known as semaglutide, is being given alongside a reduced-calorie diet and exercise starting on September 4 this year.

The drug was approved for use by the UK National Health Service earlier this year. It has been developed by Novo Nordisk and is already being sold under the brand name Wegovy in America, Denmark, and Norway.

According to the NHS guidelines, only those who have a body mass index (BMI) of more than 30, with at least one weight-related co-morbidity are eligible to get a Wegovy prescription.

The UK National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has said that the drug is "safe, effective, and affordable." NICE recommends that it be used alongside a reduced-calorie diet and increased physical activity.

Several famous personalities, including Twitter CEO Elon Musk, claim to have used it. Musk made the revelations in a Twitter post. He was responding to a question by a Twitter user, who asked him about the secrets behind his good looks and fit body. Musk said fasting and Wegovy were his secrets.

Do we need weight loss drugs?

Modern diets are based on high-carb foods, which are highly addictive and contribute to several metabolic health issues. Obesity, diabetes, heart disease, metabolic syndrome, and Alzheimer's disease are on the rise.

The Health Survey for England (HSE) conducted in 2019 revealed that over a quarter of adults in England are obese and around a third are overweight. Obesity cost the UK an estimated £6 billion in 2014–15 and is projected to rise to £9.7 billion by 2050.

Obesity impacts about 14.4 million kids and adolescents in the United States. The situation is so severe that the American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP) has recommended the use of drugs for weight loss. Some of the widely available drugs are orlistat, Novo Nordisk's semaglutide and metformin, which are all recommended to be used in addition to exercise and a nutritional diet.

Several studies in the past have shown that obesity increases the risk of developing 13 different types of cancer. After smoking, being overweight is the second-highest preventable cause of cancer in the UK.