Approximately 11.3% of Americans have been diagnosed with diabetes, a condition in which insulin resistance results in blood sugar dysregulation, with symptoms including vision loss, delayed healing of sores, and heart disease.1 Preventing disease progression and identifying effective treatments can be challenging for those who receive this diagnosis.2 However, medication advancements have eased many people’s difficulty navigating a diabetes diagnosis.  If misused, however, these medications can be dangerous. While there are many diabetes medications, glucagons (e.g., Ozempic) and insulin are among the most common.3 

Ozempic  

Ozempic is an injectable glucagon medication to help type 2 diabetes (T2D) patients lower their A1C levels and promote cardiovascular health. Although Ozempic maintains that this medication is “not a weight-loss drug,”4 recent media attention has highlighted reports of many people – including celebrities – misusing Ozempic as an aid in weight loss.5 Such messages emphasize weight loss rather than T2D treatment and, in turn, can encourage others to misuse these medications regardless of the consequences. Not only is this weight loss often temporary, but “off-label” use can increase the likelihood of  severe side effects, including kidney failure, eye vessel damage, and increased risk of thyroid cancer.6 Moreover, as this misuse of Ozempic becomes more prevalent, increased cost and medication shortages can present additional barriers to accessing Ozempic for people with T2D who actually need this medication.7 

Insulin and Diabulimia  

Diabulimia refers to “the deliberate administration of insufficient insulin for weight loss,” a condition that can cause severe consequences, including kidney damage and vision loss.8 Unlike Ozempic, insulin misuse is typically only experienced by individuals that have received a diabetes (typically type 1) diagnosis. Psychologists consider this behavior to be a dangerous form of purging. Thus, diabulimia is closely linked with bulimia nervosa.9 As with Ozempic misuse, emphasis on weight loss rather than health contributes to instances of diabulimia. Therefore, treatments that can help people with comorbid diabetes and eating disorders are critical. 

In conclusion, misuse of diabetes medications is a serious issue and should not be downplayed. The recent popularity of Ozempic has made it more difficult for people with diabetes to access this medication while unnecessarily exposing people who do not need the drug to harmful side effects. Misusing insulin is more commonly seen among those with a diabetes diagnosis and is also linked to severe consequences. Thus, while diabetes medications can be great resources for those with diabetes, it is imperative that they be taken correctly. It is important to speak with a provider about your medication options and to use these medications as prescribed. If you or someone you love is struggling with diabetes medication misuse, resources are available.  

Eating Disorder Resources

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Helpline: 

  • Call 1-800-950-6264 or text 62640 
  • Monday-Friday, 10:00 am – 10:00 pm ET 

NEDA Helpline:  

American Diabetes Association

References 

1. American Diabetes Association, (n.d.). Statistics About Diabetes. Retrieved March 31, 2023 from https://diabetes.org/about-us/statistics/about-diabetes 

2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022, December 30). Type 2 diabetes. Retrieved March 23, 2023, from https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/basics/type2.html#:~:text=More%20than%2037%20million%20Americans,adults%20are%20also%20developing%20it 

3. American Diabetes Association. (n.d.). What are my options? What Are My Options? Retrieved March 23, 2023, from https://diabetes.org/healthy-living/medication-treatments/oral-medication/what-are-my-options 

4. Ozempic Semaglutide Injection. (n.d.) What is Ozempic? https://www.ozempic.com/why-ozempic/what-is-ozempic.html#weight 

5. Blum, D. (2022, November 22). What is Ozempic and why is it getting so much attention? The New York Times. Retrieved March 23, 2023, from https://www.nytimes.com/2022/11/22/well/ozempic-diabetes-weight-loss.html 

6. Stanley, K. (2023). Risks of taking ozempic for weight loss. Baptist Health. Retrieved March 29, 2023, from https://www.baptisthealth.com/blog/health-and-wellness/risks-of-taking-ozempic-for-weight-loss#:~:text=Serious%20side%20effects%2C%20including%20allergic,and%20swelling%20of%20the%20pancreas 

7. Landwehr, J. (2022, November 3). Ozempic shortage: How a viral trend could be putting people with diabetes at risk. Health. Retrieved March 23, 2023, from https://www.health.com/ozempic-wegovy-shortage-weight-loss-diabetes-risk-6823914 

8. Coleman, S.E., Caswell, N. (2020). Diabetes and eating disorders: an exploration of ‘Diabulimia’. BMC Psychol 8, 101. https://doi.org/10.1186/s40359-020-00468-4 

9. National Eating Disorders Association. (2018, February 21). Diabulimia. NEDA Feeding Hope. Retrieved March 29, 2023, from https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/diabulimia-5 

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