- Yomiuri Editorial
Drug Shortage: Use of Diabetes Medicines for Cosmetic Purposes Must Be Stopped
14:59 JST, November 28, 2023
Diabetes medicines are being used as weight-loss drugs for cosmetic purposes and are not reaching patients with the disease. Using diabetes pharmaceuticals for anything other than their intended purpose may be harmful to users’ health, and it is necessary for the practice to stop.
These types of diabetes drugs — known as GLP-1 receptor agonists — have become popular for their ability to lower blood sugar levels and suppress appetite.
Currently, there is a serious shortage in the supply of these medicines. The growing worldwide demand for their weight-loss effects is one reason, but another is that beauty clinics, which provide medical treatments not covered by public health insurance programs, are prescribing the drugs for easy weight loss.
In response to this situation, the Japan Medical Association has criticized the inappropriate use of these medicines, claiming that it contravenes medical ethics. The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry also has called for their proper use.
It is common for people to receive cosmetic treatment not covered by health insurance, with patients covering all the costs. However, priorities must be questioned if patients cannot receive the medical treatment they desire because the drugs, which are meant to cure illnesses, are being used for cosmetic purposes instead.
Associations of diabetes patients and doctors are demanding that the government ensure stable supplies. The government should consider establishing rules to ensure that necessary medicines are preferentially delivered to medical institutions that treat the disease.
The safety of these drugs when used by healthy people without diabetes has not been confirmed. Careless use could cause serious side effects, such as severely low blood sugar and pancreatitis.
According to a survey by the National Federation of Health Insurance Societies, it is suspected that such drugs were occasionally prescribed to nondiabetic patients as if they were part of treatment covered by health insurance, even by medical institutions engaged in treating diabetes. Doctors should strictly refrain from inappropriate prescribing. The government should strengthen its monitoring and guidance.
There are a number of advertisements online for beauty clinics that tout weight-loss services with diabetes drugs with a “medical diet” tagline. It is important to keep an eye on problematic online advertising, too.
Overseas, similar types of drugs have been used to treat obesity, a condition in which a person’s health is impaired by being significantly overweight. In Japan this month, a similar drug was approved to be covered by health insurance for obesity.
However, even though this medicine is effective for weight loss, it cannot be used if the patient is merely overweight. Patients who are eligible for the drug are judged based on strict criteria, including a diagnosis of obesity as a disease when nutrition and exercise therapy have proved ineffective.
It is hoped that medical specialists will carry out effective management to prevent the spread of inappropriate use of diabetes drugs, such as for cosmetic purposes when a person is not ill.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 28, 2023)
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