Ozempic, Wegovy not tied to higher risk of suicidal thoughts: NIH study

Contrary to some anecdotal reports, a new study has found semaglutide — the active ingredient in blockbuster weight loss drugs Ozempic and Wegovy — is not linked to increased risks of suicidal thoughts.

Scientists from the National Institutes of Health Cleveland-based Case Western Reserve University published their findings Jan. 5 in Nature Medicine. Researchers reviewed the health records of more than 240,000 U.S. patients who were prescribed Wegovy or another type of medication for weight loss between June 2021 and December 2022. Patients' medical histories were tracked for six months after they were prescribed the drugs. The study also looked at more than 1.5 million patients with type 2 diabetes taking Ozempic or other medicines to curb their blood sugar between December 2017 and May 2021. 

Among people who were prescribed semaglutide for weight loss, the risk of first-time suicidal ideation was 0.11%, compared to 0.43% among those taking other weight loss medications, the findings showed. When looking at people who did have a prior history of suicidal thoughts, the risk was 7% of among those who took semaglutide and 14% among those on other drugs. Similar findings were observed when researchers looked at diabetes patients taking Ozempic relative to other anti-diabetes medications. 

"The authors concluded that their results do not support concerns of increased suicidal risk associated with semaglutide and highlight the need for a more detailed evaluation of reported cases to date," the NIH said in a news release on the findings. Novo Nordisk, which makes Ozempic and Wegovy, was not involved in the research. 

The findings offer reassuring evidence amid anecdotal and case reports of suicidal ideations among people taking Ozempic and Wegovy, which spurred European regulators to launch an investigation last year. A spokeswoman for the European Medicines Agency told The New York Times they would revisit the issue at a meeting in April. Meanwhile, the FDA is also looking into whether hair loss, suicidal thoughts and aspiration (a complication during surgery), may be side effects of GLP-1 receptor agonists. 

For now, findings from the new study ease concern over short-term psychiatric risks, though experts say additional research is needed. 

"It's very possible that someone who is affected by excess weight could be on medication like this for decades," David Creel, psychologist and registered dietitian at Cleveland Clinic, told NBC News. "We need to look for evidence that there could be any problems with longer-term use." 

In statements to NBC, a Novo Nordisk spokesperson said it "remains confident in the benefit risk profile of the the products and remains committed to ensuring patient safety."

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