Jan 19, 2024 - News

North Carolina among states with highest rates of anti-obesity prescriptions

Rate of GLP-1 prescriptions dispensed to patients
Data: PurpleLab HealthNexus database; Map: Axios Visuals

For every 1,000 people in North Carolina, roughly 11 were prescribed a drug that belongs to a buzzy class of diabetes and anti-obesity medications last year, according to insurance claims data provided to Axios by health analytics company PurpleLab.

The big picture: The South has some of the highest prescribing rates for drugs like Ozempic and Wegovy, with Kentucky prescribing the drug, known as GLP-1, to 21 of every 1,000 people — the highest in the nation.

Why it matters: The data offers a snapshot of where drugs known as GLP-1 agonists, seen as game-changers in the fight against in obesity, are most in demand in the United States, Axios' Tina Reed writes.

  • The states with the highest prescribing rates are also among those with greater prevalence of diabetes and obesity, per CDC data, a rough indication that the medicines may be getting to areas where they are in greatest need while shortages, high price tags and insurance restrictions have limited their use.

Details: After Kentucky, West Virginia had the next highest prescribing rate, at 18.9 prescriptions dispensed per 1,000. That was followed by Alaska (17.5 per 1,000), Mississippi (16.1) and Louisiana (15.4).

  • Rhode Island had the lowest rate of prescriptions (3.7 per 1,000), and its neighbor Massachusetts had the second lowest (4), followed by Wisconsin (4.3) and Hawai'i (4.3.)

Zoom in: The data is based on a collection of 1.9 billion claims from private insurers, as well as Medicare — which only covers GLP-1s to treat diabetes — and Medicaid.

  • The data captures prescriptions for Novo Nordisk's diabetes drug Ozempic, which has been widely prescribed off-label for weight loss, and Wegovy, which was approved for weight loss in 2021.
  • It also includes Eli Lilly's diabetes medication Mounjaro and its anti-obesity medication, Zepbound, which was approved by the FDA in November.
  • The data lumps the prescriptions together, so it's not possible to tease out how often these drugs are being prescribed for obesity versus diabetes. Nor does the data show how long patients took the medications.
  • A previous analysis from Prime Therapeutics found about two-thirds of patients who began taking the drugs for weight loss stopped taking them within a year.

The intrigue: Yes, we've all read about Hollywood's obsession with these drugs — so if it seems that California's prescribing rate is lower than expected, the data doesn't pick up prescriptions that were paid for in cash.

  • A month's supply of these drugs paid for fully out of pocket will typically set you back between $900 and $1,300.

Go deeper: Doctors grapple with patients' demand for weight-loss drugs


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