In 2022, more than 40% of American adults were recorded as obese. Health experts find this high statistic very concerning as obesity’s harmful effects on the quality of life of many citizens are becoming apparent. Apart from the physical health risks associated with the condition, it also negatively impacts a person’s psyche and mental state. Thus, many turn to medical weight loss treatments for help.
Obesity medication has become especially popular in recent years due to its proven efficacy. Studies state that certain obesity medications can influence up to 15% weight loss. However, many of these drugs weren’t originally meant for obesity management. Most of them were intended to address other conditions like depression and diabetes instead. As such, using these for weight loss is off-label prescribing. For a closer look at this weight loss intervention, here’s everything you need to know about off-label prescriptions.
What is off-label prescribing?
When you get diagnosed with a condition, your healthcare provider is in charge of working with you to find the best approach for treatment. In some cases, they will prescribe a drug that isn’t necessarily intended for your diagnosis. However, that doesn’t mean it isn’t safe or that it isn’t legal. In fact, statistics show that off-label treatments are used 38% of the time.
It’s important to note, though, that off-label prescribing is not a medical loophole to prescribe experimental medications for other purposes. In fact, off-label prescriptions must still use medications that have gone through strict testing by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The companies that make these drugs must submit detailed information, scientific evidence, and clinical data to be reviewed by the FDA. The organization then evaluates whether the medicines are effective and safe for public consumption. If it passes their standards, it is then branded as FDA-approved.
It’s important to note that despite the approval, some drugs still come with potential risks. However, the FDA chooses to accept some side effects if the medication’s benefits outweigh them. When this happens, manufacturers must include ample warning of any adverse consequences for consumers. This is especially important not just to aid in its intended use but also since off-label prescribing is a common practice that requires a full understanding of a drug.
So when does a healthcare provider decide to prescribe off-label? Usually, it’s because there haven’t been any approved drugs that address a condition specifically. It’s also possible that a patient has tried other treatments but hasn’t gotten the desired results.
How does off-label prescribing work with obesity?
Several drugs have been approved for off-label prescriptions in relation to weight management. This means that the weight-related benefits are a secondary benefit of the medication and not its originally designed intention.
That said, because weight loss is only a side effect of these drugs, patients often have to contend with other effects related to what the drug is truly intended for. Take note, most of the medications used in off-label obesity management are originally designed to treat other serious chronic illnesses. For example, the popular weight loss drug Naltrexone-Bupropion is mostly used as an antidepressant, but it works for weight loss because it helps reduce caloric intake. For its side effects, consumers should watch out for any headaches, dizziness, or insomnia.
Diabetes medications, alternatively called GLP-1 agonists, are also commonly used to treat obesity. GLP-1 for weight loss works by reducing cravings and increasing a person’s metabolism. Some of the most popular forms of GLP-1 include Semaglutide and Liraglutide. These are injected on a weekly basis, and they work to bring a diabetic’s blood pressure back to normal by targeting the gut. As such, their side effects include nausea, constipation, and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
These potential risks have to be taken into consideration because taking these medications may require long-term use. Additionally, they are not meant to solve the issue of obesity alone. These drugs are only prescribed to support the weight loss efforts of those who are eligible to take them. Apart from these medications, healthcare providers will typically put their obese patients on a program that will promote healthy eating and lifestyle choices.
Off-label medications have been highly beneficial when it comes to aiding weight loss for obese patients. Regardless, it’s still best to approach them with caution. If you are considering this as a weight loss option to combat obesity, consult with your healthcare provider to know if you’re eligible first.