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Drugs Can Be Used Already, but Should They?

Because the drugs are already on the market, doctors have the ability to prescribe them solely for weight loss.

But experts say such “off-label” use of the drugs can be risky.

“Off-label use happens quite a bit, actually, for obesity drugs because people are so desperate to try something,” says Raj Padwal, MD, an associate professor of internal medicine at the Walter C. Mackenzie Health Sciences Centre in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

Large studies testing the drugs for weight loss in people without diabetes are ongoing.

Until the results of those studies are known, “I think the off-label use of these agents would be premature,” Padwal tells WebMD.

He says Byetta and Victoza are already known to be associated with uncommon but potentially serious health risks.

In 2009, the FDA warned doctors about the possibility of kidney problems in patients taking Byetta.

Last June, the FDA sent a letter to doctors reminding them to keep a close eye on patients taking Victoza. In animal studies, the use of Victoza was associated with an increase of certain thyroid cancers. And in clinical trials, people taking the drug had more cases of pancreatitis than people who got other kinds of diabetes medications. “We don’t know the long-term safety, and that is a huge concern,” Spratt says.

Cost is another concern. Without insurance, Padwal says Byetta and Victoza can cost $300 to $500 for a month’s supply. “Given that cost, you kind of want to stick to the indications for the drug, which right now are sugar control in diabetes,” he says.

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