Health Fitness

Ozempic not linked to increase in suicidal thoughts, U.S. study suggests

People taking the popular diabetes and obesity drugs Ozempic and Wegovy had a lower risk of suicidal thoughts than those taking other medications to treat the same conditions, a new U.S. federal study finds. 

The research, funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, was published Friday and comes as European and U.S. regulators look into anecdotal reports that people taking the active ingredient, semaglutide, had thoughts of self-harm. 

NIH and Case Western Reserve University researchers analyzed electronic medical records from more than 1.8 million patients prescribed semaglutide or another drug to treat obesity or diabetes between 2017 and 2022. They included about 240,000 patients treated for obesity or being overweight and nearly 1.6 million patients treated for diabetes. 

They found that people taking semaglutide had a 49 per cent to 73 per cent lower risk of first-time or recurring suicidal thoughts than those taking another drug for those conditions during a six-month follow-up period. 

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Six months after they were prescribed medication, the researchers found people prescribed semaglutide for weight loss had a 0.11 per cent risk of first-time suicidal ideations and approximately a 7 per cent risk of recurrent suicidal ideation .That’s compared to 0.43 per cent and 14 per cent, respectively, for the group prescribed other weight-loss medications.

The researchers called for closer evaluation of reports of suicidal thoughts linked to the drugs and for patients to be followed for a longer period of time. Their review only considered patients taking semaglutide or another drug for diabetes or obesity.

Study co-author Dr. Rong Xu, of Case Western, also noted obesity and diabetes are risk factors on their own for suicidal thoughts. But the study wasn’t designed to determine if the GLP-1 drugs reduced those thoughts.

The scientists launched the review after the European Medicines Agency said in July that it was reviewing about 150 reports of possible cases of self-injury and suicidal thoughts linked to semaglutide and other drugs known as GLP-1 receptor agonists.

The drugs work by targeting the hormones in the gut and brain that regulate appetite and feelings of fullness. Older weight-loss drugs work differently. 

In December, the EMA’s drug watchdog group said it would seek more data from drugmaker Novo Nordisk about the reports. 

Health Canada and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration are also investigating unconfirmed reports of suicidal thoughts or actions in people taking the GLP-1 drugs. 

A spokesperson for Novo Nordisk said the new study reflects the company’s data collected from large clinical trials and since the drug has been on the market — all of which showed no “causal association” between semaglutide and thoughts of suicide or self-harm. 

Such a retrospective observational study cannot prove that GLP-1 agonists do not increase the risk of suicidal ideation, but the findings may allay concerns.
 
The researchers were unable to assess the statistical significance of differences in actual suicide attempts, which they acknowledge are “critically different from suicidal ideations.”

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