Jan 5, 2024 - Health

GLP-1s have lower risk of suicidal thoughts than older drugs, study finds

Illustrated collage of an Ozempic injection pens in front of a pensive woman with various rectangles surrounding them

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A new federal study finds a popular obesity and diabetes drug was associated with a lower risk of suicidal ideations compared with other medications treating those conditions.

Why it matters: The findings come as drug regulators are probing reported side effects of suicidal thoughts in people taking such drugs.

  • The National Institute on Drug Abuse said the study, which it helped lead, is the first comprehensive analysis of whether semaglutide, the active ingredient in Novo Nordisk's Ozempic and Wegovy, is associated with increased risk of suicidal ideation.

The big picture: Millions have flocked to the blockbuster drugs known as GLP-1 agonists for Type 2 diabetes and obesity care. But experts have warned there is little evidence about the long-term effects of those drugs in such a broad swath of the population.

  • Following an investigation, the European Medicines Agency last month announced it couldn't conclusively say if there is a link between GLP-1s and thoughts of self-harm, but it is still studying the issue.
  • The Food and Drug Administration also recently said it's investigating possible side effects reported to the agency, including suicidal thoughts.

Details: The study in Nature Medicine examined electronic health records of more than 240,000 patients who were overweight or obese and 1.6 million patients with Type 2 diabetes. The patients had been prescribed either semaglutide or a non-GLP medication for their condition.

  • They found semaglutide was associated with a 49% to 73% lower risk of suicidal ideations compared to the other drugs.
  • That finding runs contrary to anecdotal reports that prompted regulators to investigate a potential link.

What they're saying: Rong Xu, a researcher at Case Western University and a co-author of the study, told Axios the research was inspired by the seemingly contradictory reports that emerged last year.

  • Some anecdotal reports indicated patients on GLP-1s saw improvements in substance use disorder symptoms and mental health, Xu said.
  • "We hope our study provides some real-world, data-driven evidence to help people make informed decisions," Xu said.

The prescribing label for weight-loss drug Wegovy says suicidal behavior or thoughts have been reported in clinical trials for other weight-loss products and recommends doctors monitor patients on semaglutide for unusual changes in mood or behavior.

  • The label for Ozempic, which was approved as a diabetes treatment, doesn't include similar language.
  • "Novo Nordisk stands behind the safety and efficacy of all of our GLP-1RA medicines when they are used as indicated and when they are taken under the care of a licensed healthcare professional," the company said in a statement to Axios.

If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, call or text the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988. Ayuda disponible en español.

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