B.C. is not yet running out of a diabetes drug hyped for causing weight loss, but it is heading that way thanks to purchases from the United States with the help from a handful of doctors from Nova Scotia.
That is why Health Minister Adrian Dix announced plans Tuesday (March 28) to limit the sale of Ozempic to non-Canadian citizens to ensure British Columbians are prioritized.
“Currently, we don’t have a shortage of Ozempic, but the trend is in that direction and action is required,” Dix said, adding that shortages already exist in other parts of Canada, as well as North America in pointing to website Drug Shortages Canada.
Users of the drug inject Ozempic through a dispenser directly into their thighs, abdomens or upper arms once a week. While mainly used to control Type 2 diabetes, the drug’s side effects include weight loss. As such, it has gained a rapid following among celebrities and the powerful pharmaceutical industry in U.S. has recognized its potential.
Wide-spread, almost “unprecedented” advertising on social media and more traditional forms of media coupled with better pricing account for Amercians shopping for Ozempic in B.C., Dix said.
According to the ministry, there were approximately 15,798 prescriptions for the drug filled in January and February that were sent to U.S. residents – or about 15 per cent of all sales in that time period.
Officials believe that 95 per cent of U.S. residents buying Ozempic in B.C. are actually getting prescribed by at least one doctor in Nova Scotia. A closer look has also revealed that only two pharmacies located in Metro Vancouver sold 88 per cent of the dispensers.
While the ministry won’t investigate the pharmacies now, Dix didn’t rule out the possibility.
“This is concerning and in my view it has to stop. The purpose of securing Ozempic for British Columbian patients is not to turn around and export it right back to the United States.”
According to background information from the health ministry, U.S. citizens are paying roughly $300 per month for their prescription– which reports indicate may be significantly higher than south of the border.
Dix said that government will act with caution in protecting the provincial supply of the drug, but stressed that B.C. will never have enough supply to satisfy American demand.
Dix is calling for the BC College of Physicians and Surgeons to ensure physicians in B.C. are complying with all the practice requirements for prescribing the drug and has asked authorities in Nova Scotia to investigate further into prescription allegations.
“I trust that our federal and provincial partners will support British Columbia in looking into this very serious issue and doing everything what is necessary to protect the Canadian supply of the drug.”
Earlier this year, the province expanded access to Ozempic under the BC PharmaCare program – with experts expecting the in-province demand to rise for those with Type 2 diabetes.