- Semaglutide, the weight-loss drug sold as Ozempic and Wegovy, is a hot ticket for wealthy New Yorkers.
- An Upper East Side pharmacist says middle-aged women are seeking out the drug, despite shortages.
- Margaret Josephs of “Real Housewives of New Jersey” has lost 22 pounds on a weight-loss injectable.
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For months, reports have circulated that the weight-loss drug semaglutide is ubiquitous in Hollywood, with celebrities taking it left and right. Most appear to have kept their use a secret, though a handful have acknowledged taking the drug, including Elon Musk, Rosie O’Donnell, and Chelsea Handler (who said she did so unwittingly).
Not to be outdone by the West Coast, the rich and famous of New York City and its suburbs have now jumped on the semaglutide bandwagon. Doctors and others in the medical field say patients in New York’s wealthiest ZIP codes are clamoring for the drug, which is sold under the brand names Ozempic and Wegovy.
“When I say everybody is on it, it’s like, everybody is on it,” Dr. David Shafer, a New York City plastic surgeon, said. (His practice, the Shafer Clinic, has a division called Advitam, which specializes in “metabolic aesthetics” and “antiaging,” its website says.)
“Any celebrity you’ve heard of, they’re probably on it,” Shafer told Insider. “Most of the people who come into my office, if they’re asking for it, they’re not on it yet. But if they’re not asking for it, they’re probably taking it. It’s a very, very popular treatment.”
Shafer himself started taking Ozempic about six months ago, and said he’d lost about 20 pounds.
“Before, I’d eat three, four, five bites of pizza,” he said. “Now, I take a couple of bites and I’m full.”
Shafer estimated that about 50% of Advitam’s patients were on “some type of weight-loss treatment,” while his colleague Jamie Gabel said that about 40% of his incoming patients inquired about semaglutide or other weight-loss drugs.
People are using semaglutide to lose anywhere from 15 to 50 pounds
Gabel, a physician assistant and the clinical director of Advitam, said that most of his patients who inquired about weight-loss drugs were between 40 and 70. They’re more likely to be women, and the amount of weight they’re looking to shed varies.
“If I have a woman come in, and she feels she might be 10 pounds overweight, that might be a really big deal for her,” Gabel said. “But we’ve also had patients come in and lose 40 and 50 pounds.”
One of Gabel’s patients is the “Real Housewives of New Jersey” star Margaret Josephs. Though she went to Advitam with the primary goal of improving her energy levels and longevity, a year on, she’s also lost significant weight.
Advitam prescribed Josephs, 55, a cocktail of drugs that she referred to as a “wellness regimen.” It includes hormone-replacement pellets to address menopause, “something that helps with your own human-growth hormone, and then I’m on GLP-1s,” she told Insider. “That’s a shot once a week, and that helps you lose weight and improves your metabolism.”
GLP-1 agonists are the class of drugs to which semaglutide belongs. These human-made peptides mimic natural hormones that stimulate the pancreas to churn out more insulin after you eat, which, in turn, lowers blood sugar. That makes them invaluable to people with type 2 diabetes.
It’s not entirely clear how GLP-1 agonists promote weight loss, but they seem to curb appetite and slow the progression of food through the digestive system, which prolongs the feeling of fullness.
The semaglutide molecule is patented by the drugmaker Novo Nordisk, which sells it in injectable form as Ozempic (intended for people with type 2 diabetes) and Wegovy (a higher-dose treatment designed for weight loss). Doctors can also prescribe Ozempic “off label” for weight loss, meaning they can give it to patients for a reason different from what the Food and Drug Administration approved it for.
While there are five other FDA-approved GLP-1 agonists on the market, semaglutide is especially appealing because it requires only weekly injections, instead of daily or twice-weekly shots.
More importantly, it works. Patients enrolled in a Mayo Clinic study lost an average of nearly 6% of their body weight after three months on semaglutide and just shy of 11% after six months taking it. The study was relatively small, with just 175 participants, but the results seem to be mirrored in the general public.
Josephs was prescribed the GLP-1 agonist after getting a high score on an A1C test, which measures blood sugar and is used to help diagnose prediabetes and diabetes. “That happens; women become insulin-resistant as they get older,” she said.
Once she started taking the GLP-1 injections, “I started losing a few pounds,” Josephs said. “Then, over the course of a few months, I was down maybe 10, then another 5, then another 5. I wound up losing about 22 pounds.”
Semaglutide’s popularity has led to shortages, and NYC pharmacies are affected, too
The popularity of Ozempic and Wegovy has led to shortages. While availability is beginning to rebound, the drugs have been in short supply for months.
Anthony Gerber, a pharmacist on New York City’s Upper East Side, said his customers — especially women between the ages of 30 and 50 — are traveling across the city to obtain semaglutide, going down to Wall Street or over to Brooklyn to try to find the wonder drug.
“I’m now calling around to pharmacies to see who has stock” of semaglutide, Gerber, who also works with low-income patients at the NYC Health and Hospitals/Coney Island diabetes clinic, said. As of February, his Upper East Side pharmacy had a semaglutide waiting list of about 20 people.
“A lot of patients will just wait because they know they don’t need it, or they’re shopping around for pharmacies that have it and will have us transfer the prescription,” he said. “But the diabetics, they can’t wait for it.”
As a result, New Yorkers in search of semaglutide have turned to online pharmacies, Reddit forums, and pharmacies in Canada and Mexico. Even Gerber’s own friends are asking him to prescribe them Ozempic for weight loss, he said.
“One of my friends texted me a picture of some shady vial that said ‘semaglutide.’ But we don’t know what’s in them; who knows what you’re injecting into yourself,” Gerber said, citing doctors’ concerns about phony or poorly compounded semaglutide.
And, of course, there’s the moral aspect of people without diagnosed clinical obesity or type 2 diabetes taking the drug amid shortages.
Josephs and Gabel, who developed her regimen, confirmed that she’s taking a GLP-1 agonist. However, they declined to say exactly which kind, citing privacy and Advitam’s proprietary treatment plans. Josephs said that she’s not taking Ozempic and that she’d never heard of it before going to Advitam for treatment.
“I was on this way before, all of a sudden, everybody hit on it and started talking about it,” Josephs said. “What I’m taking, I’m not taking from anybody who needs the treatment.”
For Josephs, better health was the goal — but ‘looking good’ is a bonus
Josephs said that the number of people she knows who are taking injectable weight-loss drugs has become “endless.”
“Everyone is taking some version of something because everybody I know is running on all cylinders and has very high-powered jobs, or they’re traveling nonstop and running around and want to lose a few pounds and have more energy,” she said.
Josephs said she remains on the GLP-1 agonist for her health. Her blood sugar is down, her blood work is “stellar,” and and she feels more evenly energetic after smaller but more satisfying meals. While she acknowledges that there’s a certain pressure to keep up appearances, she shrugs off the judgments.
“I mean, everyone’s like, ‘Marge, you look great,’ though some of my costars are not so happy about my weight loss and think it’s not a good idea,” she said. “I think it’s ridiculous; it’s whatever works for me. I think people can assume whatever they want. If being healthy and looking good go hand in hand, and I look good, that’s great.”