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New weight loss injection hailed as affordable game changer for patients

The named brand injection isn't covered by most insurances, costing patients around $1,500 out of pocket.

NEW ORLEANS — We know when it comes to losing weight and keeping it off, genetics make it more difficult for some people, but when we told you about a new medication, called a weight loss game changer, not everyone could get it.

Now, local doctors are helping to make it available to more people.

It was in February when Ramsey Hare told us on her 30th birthday, her weight had surged to 380 pounds. She no longer wanted to deal with the emotional pain.

“Traveling on an airplane, having to ask for a seatbelt extender, just little things like that, that emotionally was traumatizing,” said Ramsey Hare, a nurse at Surgical Specialists of Louisiana.

Bariatric surgery to make her stomach smaller, and regulate her hormones, helped her get down to 150 pounds, but a decade later, steroid and fertility hormone injections caused the pounds to start coming back on, fast.

“And I was terrified. None of my clothes fit. My scrubs didn't fit for work. Brought back so many painful, you know, depression memories, and just the anxiety,” remembers Hare.

Then she heard about a new FDA-approved, once-a-week injection called Wegovy.

“It's simple. It's painless, and it was a miracle. In three weeks, I lost 18 pounds, and by three months, I had lost 38 pounds. And so by six months, I was up to 47 pounds,” said Hare.

The medication helps to suppress your appetite, those cravings, by regulating the hormone insulin, but after we told Ramsey's story on Weight Loss Wednesday, calls for the treatment poured in to doctors at the Surgical Specialists of Louisiana. With insurance, the once-a-week injections are only $25 a month, but many new patients got denials from their insurance companies, and could not afford the $1,500-$1,700 monthly price tag.

“Oh they were very upset. Very upset. We did have few that did get covered, but there were more not covered than covered,” said Jamie Zepeda, a medical assistant at Surgical Specialists of Louisiana.

So the doctors decided to do something about it. They found a compounding pharmacy that could custom make their version of the weight loss medication Semaglutide, that's the generic name, with an added vitamin. And it’s only a fraction of the cost, $250 a month.

“They're so excited and grateful that this is an opportunity that they have. This medication truly is different than the other ones I've used in the past. There still needs to be diet changes, but this is something that's changing the game. People have significantly less of an appetite, and they are keeping the weight off,” said Dr. Buddy Leithead, a Bariatric Surgeon at Surgical Specialists of Louisiana.

At the clinic they do both surgical and medical weight loss, using a variety of medications to help patients, but since the injection came on the market at the lower price about a month ago, they have increased their medical patients three to five fold.

“We just saw a patient today that lost seven pounds in one month. It was her first month on the medication, and she's down seven pounds already,” said Zepeda.

One of the side effects of Wegovy has been mild nausea, but with the Semaglutide compound, vitamin B-12 is added and is helping to reduce that side effect.

“Yes, we don't get the phone calls saying, ‘I'm nauseated. I need Zofran.’ With other medications, we would have to prescribe Zofran at the same time. This medication we have not had to do so,” said Zepeda.

And as patients lose weight, they also lose the long list of chronic, and often dangerous, other health conditions that come with it.

“We have a lot of patients that are able to stop taking medicine after taking this. And it's not simply losing weight, it's truly metabolic process,” explained Dr. Leithead.

And the doctors say this medication works better than the daily pills they have prescribed in the past. Those pills that can cause jitters, anxiety, and sleepless nights. So now patients can lose weight as Ramsey did, without major losses to their bank accounts.

The doctors are treating both men and women with the compounded medication, as well as adolescents, with the permission of their parents.