Nationwide weight loss medication shortage hits on local level

With prices surging and demand skyrocketing, patients are struggling to keep up
Tiffany Rooker (Before and after).jpeg
Posted at 10:04 AM, Jan 03, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-03 11:04:44-05

MILWAUKEE — With the new year comes the classic resolution: Get in shape.

One way many are hoping to battle the bulge is with popular weight loss drugs like Ozempic and Wegovy.

In fact, those drugs are in such high demand, there is a nationwide shortage of them and pharmaceutical companies are scrambling to keep up.

Growing up, Tiffany Rooker says she always struggled with her weight.

“I was always the big kid. Big kid with short hair. So, I got teased a lot, bullied a lot and it kind of stuck with me into adulthood,” said Rooker.

Tiffany says she carried that hurt for years.

From giving birth to her three children to now being a grandmother of four, she says reaching her highest weight of 284 pounds was more than just physically heavy.

“When people look at you and they see that you're overweight, they just think you over eat, but they don't understand you have baggage, things that weren't your responsibilities that you took on,” said Rooker.

In June 2022, Tiffany decided that she had had enough.

She met with her doctor who suggested she look at weight loss medications, also known as GLP-1s.

During the last few years, some of the most popular products on the market, like Ozempic, Wegovy and Mounjaro, have surged in popularity and led to a nationwide shortage.

“It’s very difficult to lose weight and people have tried all sorts of different things and when you find something that works as well as these medications do, people want to use it. So, the demand has gone up tremendously,” said Dr. Christopher Weber, Medical Director, Ascension Wisconsin Bariatric Services.

On top of the demand, a big issue people face when dealing with the shortage is the price.

Depending on the drug and insurance, they can cost patients thousands of dollars a year to stay on them and research shows people may need to stay on them to maintain that weight loss.

Ascension Wisconsin’s Dr. Christopher Weber says that uncertainty can make an already tough issue even worse.

“Some of those are very expensive, some of them are difficult to find and so patients and providers are running into difficulties and so the questions come up, ‘What do we do in this situation?’” Weber said.

At one point, Tiffany went almost two months without her medication.

“Day to day, we don’t know which pharmacy is going to have which dose of them. Sometimes they don’t have any, sometimes they have this dose or that dose, so it’s very difficult to navigate,” Weber said.

Still, Weber says he works with patients like Tiffany to come up with ways to keep up their progress while they wait for their medications to come in.

“You made have tried everything, everything. This diet or that diet, this medication and other things. There almost always something else that we can try,” Weber said.

Tiffany says that hope is what keeps her going.

Now, almost two years into her journey, she’s down 88 pounds and has gone from a size 22 to a size 8.

While she doesn’t have an exact number in mind, she says her goal is to keep feeling this way for as long as she can.

“When you look at me now, at this size, I'm free from all the baggage because it wasn't mine. So, I decided life,” Rooker said. “I’m free. I'm healthy. I'm free.”