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Province takes actions to prevent shortage of diabetes drug

March 28, 2023 at 9:51 am  BC, News, Politics, Provincial

The Province is taking actions to ensure that diabetes patients in B.C. do not experience a shortage of the diabetes drug semaglutide (Ozempic) in an environment where surging demand in some jurisdictions is creating shortages.

Ozempic is an injectable prescription drug designed to treat Type 2 diabetes mellitus and contains the active ingredient semaglutide. To date, British Columbia has not experienced any shortages of the drug.

B.C.’s PharmaNet data indicates that an unusually high percentage of the dispenses of Ozempic are being purchased by U.S. patients from pharmacies located in British Columbia. In January and February 2023, 15% or 15,798 of Ozempic dispenses in B.C. were sold to U.S. residents. U.S. residents made up 19% or 12,816 of all patients who were dispensed the drug by a pharmacy in the province. The average of other drugs sold to Americans is 0.4%.

“The purpose of procuring the drug Ozempic for British Columbia is not to turn around and export it to Americans. It is to make sure patients in British Columbia and Canada requiring the drug to treat their Type 2 diabetes can continue to access it,” said Adrian Dix, Minister of Health. “For this reason, we are taking action to ensure Type 2 diabetes patients maintain access to Ozempic.”

To protect the supply of this drug for residents of B.C. and Canada who need it, the Province intends to amend regulations to limit the sale or dispensing of Ozempic to non-Canadian residents in situations where there are potential supply issues.

BC PharmaCare provides limited coverage for Ozempic as a second line therapy for Type 2 diabetes to help patients manage blood sugar levels when metformin, another diabetes drug, is not effective. Ozempic is not approved for weight loss. Given the significant dispensing volumes, the Ministry of Health is asking the respective colleges to ensure that physicians prescribing and pharmacies dispensing Ozempic are compliant with the product’s approved indication and that they are meeting the colleges’ clinical practice requirements for prescribing and dispensing medications.

Increasingly, U.S. customers are turning to Canadian online pharmacies to buy drugs at prices lower than can be obtained domestically. Currently, pharmacies in B.C. can fill prescriptions for patients written by U.S. doctors if they are co-signed by a Canadian practitioner.

The data indicates that two B.C. pharmacies were responsible for 13,197 of the 15,798 dispenses to U.S. residents, which represents 88% of all dispenses to U.S. residents in January and February 2023. Of these prescriptions, 95% were written by one or more prescribers who identified themselves as a practitioner from Nova Scotia.

“The number of prescriptions emanating from one or more practitioners in Nova Scotia is concerning. As a direct result of the review of PharmaNet data, I am writing to all provincial and territorial health ministers in Canada, as well as the Minister of Health for Canada, Jean-Yves Duclos, to review and take appropriate actions,” Dix said.

Quick Facts:

  • One of the side-effects of Ozempic is weight loss, and it has gained popularity as a weight-loss medication due to social media.
  • As a result, demand has created shortages of the drug for people with diabetes in various jurisdictions, including the United States.
  • As of March 18, 2023, Drug Shortages Canada, the website for reporting drug shortages and discontinuations in Canada, indicates a national shortage of the one milligram format of Ozempic.
  • The Province is working closely with the drug manufacturer to ensure B.C. has a sufficient supply of Ozempic.

Learn more:

To learn more about BC PharmaCare, visit: https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/health/health-drug-coverage/pharmacare-for-bc-residents

To learn more about Ozempic coverage in B.C., visit: https://news.gov.bc.ca/releases/2023HLTH0001-000004

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