Why the new class of “diet drugs” is overvalued

It’s hard to remember when a class of new drugs has been hyped as much as the new injectable diet drugs. Wall Street has bought into the hype by rewarding pharma companies with significant bumps in their stock prices. The media continues to promote them with stories about dramatic weight loss freely. But beneath the hype are areas of concern that are being overlooked.

I tried Muonjaro after paying $660 for a month’s supply with a discount from Good Rx. I had to wait over three weeks for the pharmacy to get the product in stock, and when I picked it up, I was warned about the cost and potential side effects.

After injecting myself, I was fine for about four hours, but then it started. Waves of nausea and cramps that wouldn’t go away. At dinner, it became worse when I smelled what we were cooking. It got so bad I couldn’t leave the house for three days.

I had a video chat with my prescribing doctor, who promptly told me that most of her patients reported the same side effects. Most of them have discontinued the drug because of side effects and costs—a few phone calls to some other physicians that I know confirmed his story. Patients were discontinuing use because of side effects, and patients who had lost weight on these drugs were gaining it back after stopping.

A monthly package of a GLP-1 costs between $900 and $1,350 before insurance and other rebates. Novo Nordisk and Eli Lilly have savings programs that aim to reduce out-of-pocket costs for weight loss drugs, regardless of whether a patient has commercial insurance coverage.

In a survey, a majority — nearly 60% — of people surveyed with annual incomes of more than $250,000 said the maximum price they are willing to pay out of pocket for a GLP-1 is more than $300 per month. Only 4% of people with annual incomes less than $75,000 said the same thing. Of that group, 64% said the maximum price they are willing to pay out of pocket for a GLP-1 is $50 per month or less.

Among those who used to take a GLP-1, 42% said they gained “some” weight back after stopping treatment. Around 13% said they gained most of it back, while 23% said they gained all of it back. Another 23% said they remained at a lower weight after stopping the drug.

Under reasonable assumptions and at current prices, making this class of drugs available to all obese Americans could eventually cost over $1 trillion per year. That exceeds the government’s savings from reduced diabetes incidence and other health care costs from excess weight by $800 billion annually. It is almost as much as the government spends on the entire Medicare program and almost one-fifth of the amount America spends on health care.

Obesity is a massive issue in this country, but I feel that the new weight-loss drugs are being overpromoted and that most patients don’t understand the potential side effects. I will never, ever retake any of these drugs and will rely on diet and exercise to control my weight. I also believe that the value and potential sales of these drugs have been over-hyped. Time will tell, but we need to look at what’s going on by talking more to doctors and patients and less about media stories.