According to doctors and fitness experts, queries come in every other day from (well-heeled) patients, asking whether they can take the expensive, injectable drugs to shed those stubborn kilos. “It’s coming up in conversations everywhere. Patients ask me about it all the time,” says Ambrish Mithal, chairman and head of endocrinology, Max Healthcare. There are a lot of people interested in taking Ozempic because “the weight loss is so dramatic”, says Kiran Sethi, medical director, Isya Aesthetics.
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And if the affluent had to take the trouble to fly abroad to get those prized Pfizer shots during the pandemic, these injections are being sourced here. “Mounjaro’s usually sourced from Dubai, and Ozempic from the US. It’s not a prescribed drug in India so you can’t get it at a chemist here. But a fair number of people travel abroad regularly or they have people visiting them,” says Mubai-based Vishakha Shivdasani, a physician practicing functional medicine to reverse obesity, fatty liver, etc., who has patients ask about the drugs regularly though she does not prescribe it herself.
If you are willing and able to pay, there are also suppliers who offer to deliver it to you, provided there is a minimum order. Two suppliers, contacted by ET via an online wholesale marketplace, offered to sell 1 mg of Ozempic for Rs 23,000 and Mounjaro at Rs 7,000 for 2.5 mg, going up to Rs 24,000 for 12.5 mg.
“I get orders for 20-30 boxes of Ozempic every week,” one of them told ET on the condition of anonymity. The orders, the suppliers say, are not just from metros like Delhi and Mumbai, but even from cities like Varanasi and Ahmedabad.
Ozempic and Wegovy from Novo Nordisk and Eli Lilly’s Mounjaro are a new set of drugs that cause weight loss by mimicking a natural hormone called glucagon-like peptide-1 that regulates appetite. Only Wegovy is approved for weight loss by the US Food and Drug Administration, while Ozempic and Mounjaro are type-2 diabetes medication. But all three are being used to fight the flab after unprecedented results — participants in a Wegovy trial, for instance, lost 15% of their weight over 68 weeks.Demand soared after celebrities like Musk and Amy Schumer spoke about using it for weight loss and innumerable social media posts along with before-and-after pictures by those who lost weight.In India, the patients keen to try Ozempic or Mounjaro typically fall into three categories, according to Shivdasani: those who have to be in front of the camera as part of their job — usually celebrities, those who are frustrated at not being able to lose weight or people getting married soon. All of them have one goal in common — to lose weight quickly. “More often than not, those keen to try it are people who want a quick fix,” says Shivdasani.
A celebrity wedding planner in Delhi, who requested not to be named, said brides-to-be start taking the shots a few months before D-Day and see a substantial weight loss.
“After the wedding many stop taking the drug and gain back the weight that is lost,” she said.
Mumbai-based Neena Mehta (name changed), 52, started on the oral weight loss tablet Rybelsus in December 2022 but in March she started Ozempic injections. “I lost 9 kg in eight months,” says Mehta, who gets the drug from the US.
However, doctors advise caution since these are new drugs and long-term effects are yet to be seen. Mithal of Max Healthcare warns that these drugs are not for everyone, and with a fair amount of nausea and vomiting in the initial stages, the idea being to “start low and go slow”.
“But in their rush to lose weight, people are sometimes starting with high doses. Shivdasani had a patient recently who was severely overweight and insisted on taking Mounjaro but was confined to his house because of severe diarrhoea. “I lowered his dose and monitored his diet and things are now back to normal,” she says. But because he lost 15 kg in about 20 weeks, he is now very motivated, she adds. “I don’t prescribe the drug, but I will say that many people have achieved weight loss.”
Doctors also say that if patients rely solely on the drugs for weight loss, they regain the weight once they stop. “If patients are not exercising or following a diet, using these molecules is not a great idea because even if you lose weight temporarily, it’ll come back when they stop,” says Mithal. Binayak Sinha, consultant endocrinologist at AMRI Hospitals, Salt Lake, Kolkata says he has seen that Ozempic leads to at least a 10% weight loss in six months.
“But if the drugs are discontinued, the weight can return.” Mumbai-based Mehta, who had to stop Ozempic for another medical procedure, has now regained 2 kg.
Finally, there is the weight of expectations. “Patients often get frustrated because their friend might lose 20 kg while they lose only 2 kg. When people spend so much and are desperate, they want afool-proof method – but that doesn’t necessarily happen,” says Mithal.