The repercussions of the information age have caused the outbreak of a new type of epidemic: an epidemic of medical and health misinformation, which has conquered social networks. Concerns about theseinfodemic” of unsubstantiated and potentially harmful medical advice jumped to the forefront of national news recently due to a recent social media sensation surrounding the drug. Ozempic. Designed to treat type 2 diabetes, the prescription drug has been credited with staggering “weight loss success” and the track “Ozempic” has racked up more than 300 million views on TikTok.
As a result, doctors have been inundated with requests for the drug, prompting extreme market shortage. The situation now poses problems for patients with type 2 diabetes, as the increased demand for the drug without brand use has made it increasingly difficult to acquire for those who really need it. Novo NordiskOzempic’s maker, issued a statement on the rise in unapproved use of the drug, saying: “We do not promote, suggest or encourage the unauthorized use of our drugs.”
And indeed, such unconventional use of the drug can lead to serious health complications. Their website lists possible side effectsincluding kidney failure, pancreatitis, thyroid tumors, and gallbladder problems. Not to mention, at a hefty cost of nearly $900 a month, potential health repercussions aren’t the only price potential users of the drug will have to pay. Considering all this, the question remains: Why do people keep buying the narrative?
The answer may lie in American culture. The societal demand for “quick fix” medical solutions has caused a “overprescribing epidemic”, in which the pills are often considered preferable to the search for lasting changes in behavior. the diet industry in particular, it profits from this mindset, marketing diet pills and injections that lure patients with quick fixes meant to bypass months of intensive fasting and exercise.
The sharp increase in demand for Ozempic has highlighted the worrying role that social media is playing in contributing to this trend, with many media networks plagued by false promises of immediate health solutions. Personal anecdotes of miraculous weight loss exploit users’ desire for instant results, further blurring the lines between medical fact and fiction as a means of gaining insights and publicity.
This is especially problematic considering that 80% of people use the Internet as a source for health-related information, and attempts to correct false medical advice have often been unsuccessful. In fact, in an NBC News interview with Nat Gyenes, who heads the Digital Health Lab at the technology nonprofit Meedan, they point out that debunking efforts often “can’t compete with virality of claims they seek to correct”. In addition, corrective content and information is prevented from reaching the target audience due to the presence of algorithms that select content intended to reinforce users’ pre-existing beliefs and biases.
To further complicate matters, the role of the user interface in spreading these unsubstantiated or false medical claims often cannot be remedied by the intervention of licensed healthcare professionals. For example, clinical practice guidelines, which provide detailed instructions for clinicians to use in making treatment decisions, often have conflicts of interest. Often written by experts with financial ties to the pharmaceutical industry, these guidelines generally encourage doctors to prescribe medications such as first line treatment rather than as a workaround. All of these conditions have led to the evolution of an American health care system based on a drug monopoly, one in which big pharma reigns supreme and pills take precedence over holistic and alternative approaches.
Statistical figures bear this out: Between 2000 and 2012, the proportion of adults in the US taking five or more medications nearly doubled, and this does not take into account over-the-counter use, which has been largely the case of drugs like Ozempic. Much of this increase has been attributed to the prominent role played by social media platforms in spreading advertisements and information on pharmaceutical products.
If left unchecked, the repercussions of this situation threaten to take a heavy toll on the American population, with “drug overload” estimated to result in the premature deaths of approximately 150,000 older Americans over the next decade. Recent initiatives, such as a grassroots movement known as “deprescribing, have tried to counteract the effects of this by systematically removing patients from medications that are inappropriate, duplicate or unnecessary. A variety of campaigns also seek to raise awareness, such as the choose wisely initiative, whose objective is to inform the public of the harms associated with the excessive use of prescriptions.
The bottom line: trust your instincts. Society is just beginning to deal with the paradoxical emergence of social networks as defenders and adversaries of truth systems. Although media networks have allowed information to proliferate At an unprecedented rate, such circumstances threaten to allow networks to spread both fictional and factual knowledge. Simply put, if the information sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Tate Moyer is an opinion columnist and can be reached at email@example.com.