Consuming ourselves. The bandwagon of overmedication, from Hollywood to your neighbour

We are consumers. We consume external stimuli, from the noise of the alarm that wakes you up to the velvety touch of the chair in which you sit down to have dinner. We consume food, as fuel, from a daily morning coffee to the chocolate muffin to power through a particularly challenging studying session. We consume drugs and way more medicines than we should. Melatonin to sleep, vitamin D to counteract the sun deficiency, aspirin for the seemingly undying cough caused by the chronic cold throughout winter and an occasional paracetamol for headaches and pains. All of these actions have an apparently innocent nature, but we can analyse this trend and use it to uncover gaps in the way in which our social behaviour operates.  

There is no doubt that the main objective of medicines is to aid, to help, to cure. It provides those that need it with the correct active ingredients to help them live, and better the quality of life. However, polypharmacy, the act of consuming several medicines at the same time, has increased exponentially in the past 20 years. This stems from a disconnected medical care system, in which a lack of communication between specialists might prescribe a medication that counteracts a prior one, thus provoking a “prescribing cascade”. This can have dangerous consequences, such as excessive side effects due to unexpected drug interactions once they have entered the system. 

As time goes by, we have better and easier access to medications of this type, simply by going to our nearest convenience store we can already find analgesics, antipyretics, vitaminic supplements, expectorants and even systemic relaxants. No need to identify oneself or to possess any kind of prescribed note. Our increased accessibility has made us complacent, almost in an entitling manner. In some kind of way, we do feel entitled to them. I can buy them, and they serve me a purpose, so why wouldn’t I? Better be safe than sorry, right?

But what happens when the consequences are not only self-afflictive but translate into a bigger problem for others? I want to raise a particular example. Ozempic. What is Ozempic? Well if you have been active on social media in the past year, you will know, but to recapitulate, Ozempic is a glucagon-like peptide (GLP-1), and it’s used to regulate blood sugar levels. It was developed by Novo Nordisk, a Danish pharmaceutical company, with its objective being to control glycemic levels and to help treat several conditions, in particular diabetes of type 2 and cardiovascular diseases.

However, it also has a very particular secondary effect; extreme weight loss and the silencing of “food noise”. This has driven us to a painting in which Hollywood celebrities, the evermore Evil Queen from Snow White, can cherrypick their appearance to fit the current trends. The locus of the question is not in the personal implications, as I would rather focus on the ramifications that these choices have on the environment that relies on them, not for a trend, but out of necessity. The connotations of a medically designed drug for diabetic affectees being used for vanity purposes in a country like the United States are much more serious than initially thought so. The fact that celebrities and privileged elites can simply go to their nearest beauty clinic and easily obtain prescriptions of Wegovy, Ozempic or Mounjaro to use them for weight-loss purposes implies that there is going to be a separate collective that is going to be prived of accessing those same goods. 

The dangerously fast increase in the demand for Ozempic and similar semaglutide-containing drugs has caused a situation of imbalance between the aggregate demand and the aggregate supply, where its consumers have been forced to compete for a limited amount of available goods. As a consequence, scarcity has increased, prices have been raised exponentially and accessibility has decreased incredibly. However, it has not affected all Ozempic consumers in the same way, as the only ones that have really been affected are those who take it due to medical reasons. 

The main collectives that are affected are not just the medical users, but a far more concerned collective of this Venn Diagram, the diabetic people who have been pushed into a dark corner by the oppressively capitalist environment that bore them and thus rely on their medical insurance to finance their access to medicament. Up to two months to get an appointment, another two for trials and considerations for the doctor to give you a prescription, a minimum of another two to three months for your insurance to process the claim, a stroke of luck and quite a lot of persistence for them to accept the claim and a two-hour drive to your CVS to get your meds, only for them to tell you that there is no availability in the whole state of your specific medicine. Does that mean that you need to go back to step 1 and wait for a minimum of another year to be put onto a different kind of life-saving medication? Just because everyone is jumping on the bandwagon of Ozempic for its secondary effects (nausea and reduction of “food noise”) rather than its main purpose (the stabilisation of blood sugar levels). 

It’s not just a matter of losing or not losing weight. It’s not just a matter of the medicines, it’s about what it tells us. Using Ozempic for vanity purposes tells a story. It’s a story of prerogatives, it’s a story of structural classism and, most of all, it’s a story of privilege and the lack of it. 

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