The demand for diabetes drugs like Ozempic and Wegovy has surged 300 percent since 2020 as more patients seek the medications to quickly shed pounds. 

And while people may associate the blockbuster weight-loss drugs with celebrities who tout their benefits – including Oprah Winfrey, Sharon Osbourne, Amy Schumer and Tracy Morgan – it is actually Americans in the south who are filling the most prescriptions for the medications. 

Of all 50 states and Washington, DC, the rate of weight-loss prescriptions was highest in Kentucky last year, with 20.7 prescriptions dispensed per 1,000 people. 

This was followed by West Virginia, at a rate of 18.9 prescriptions dispensed per 1,000 people. Perhaps rather surprisingly, Alaska came third at 17.5 per 1,000.

Mississippi at 16.1 per 1,000; and Louisiana with 15.4 prescriptions dispensed per 1,000 people rounded out the top five.

The states with the lowest rates of prescriptions were Rhode Island with 3.7 prescriptions dispensed per 1,000 people, Massachusetts at 4.0 per 1,000, Wisconsin at 4.3 per 1,000 and Hawaii, also with a rate of 4.3 prescriptions per 1,000. 

The results are based on data from 1.9billion claims from private insurers, Medicaid and Medicare, which only covers these types of medications specifically to treat diabetes. 

The claims include prescriptions for Wegovy, which is approved to treat obesity, Ozempic, which is only approved to treat diabetes but is prescribed off-label for weight loss, Mounjaro, a drug used to treat diabetes and Zepbound, a diabetes drug recently approved for weight loss. 

Paying out of pocket for these drugs can cost anywhere between $900 and $1,300 for a month-long supply. And drugmakers recently raised some of these prices. 

Ozempic’s manufacturer Novo Nordisk hiked the price 3.5 percent to nearly $970 per month. Mounjaro’s manufacturer Eli Lilly increased the cost 4.5 percent to almost $1,070 per month.  

The data, from PurpleLab HealthNexus database, groups the prescriptions together for both diabetes treatment and weight-loss treatment, so it is not possible to determine how many prescriptions were written specifically for weight-loss purposes alone. 

However, being overweight or obese is a major risk factor for diabetes and there were some overlaps between the most obese states, states with high rates of diabetes and the rates of prescriptions. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that nearly half of Americans are overweight or obese. 

The above shows the prevalence of diabetes in each US state in 2021

The above shows the prevalence of diabetes in each US state in 2021

The above map shows the obesity rate by US state in the year 2022

The above map shows the obesity rate by US state in the year 2022

In 2022, a record three states had more than 40 percent of their adults classified as obese and 19 states had rates over 35 percent.

The top five most obese states in 2022 – the latest data available – were West Virginia, Louisiana, Oklahoma Mississippi and Tennessee. 

Mississippi and Louisiana were also among the top five states for highest rates of the diabetes and weight-lost prescriptions. 

In 2021, the latest data available, some of the highest rates of diabetes were in Kentucky, West Virginia, Mississippi and Louisiana – all states with the highest rates of prescriptions for the weight-loss drugs. 

The data did not specify how long patients took the medications, but a recent analysis from Prime Therapeutics found about two-thirds of people who take the medications went off them within a year. 

Despite their popularity and efficacy, taking the weight-loss drugs does not come without serious side effects. 

Multiple patients have told the medications have caused life-threatening medical complications, including pancreatitis, bowel obstructions and stomach paralysis. 

People taking the drugs also report thoughts of suicide, depression and gaining their lost weight – and more – back after stopping the medications.   

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