The provincial government is limiting the sale or dispensing of Ozempic to non-Canadian residents for Ozempic after data showed that 15 per cent of all prescriptions for the drug in B.C. went to patients in the U.S. in the first two months of the year.
Ozempic is a drug that is used to treat Type 2 diabetes. One of the side effects of the drug is weight loss, so some have been advertising it as a weight loss drug, despite it not being an approved use for the drug. This had led to an increase in demand.
In a news conference, Adrian Dix, B.C.’s health minister, said this change is to ensure there is supply for B.C. residents.
“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,” Dix said. “For this reason, we are taking action to ensure Type 2 diabetes patients maintain access to Ozempic.”
Two pharmacies in Metro Vancouver were responsible for 88 per cent of prescriptions being sent to the U.S., according to data the B.C. government reviewed.
Drug Shortages Canada lists the 1 mg dose of Ozempic as having a shortage due to a short term supply-demand imbalance. There are no reports of shortages in the 1.34 or 2.68 mg doses.
While prescriptions of Ozempic to patients in the U.S. made up 15 per cent, the health ministry says Americans make up an average of 0.4 per cent of customers of other prescription drugs.
In B.C., pharmacies can dispense prescriptions written by U.S. doctors as long as there is also a Canadian physician who co-signs the prescription. The health ministry says data shows that 95 per cent of Ozempic prescriptions filled in B.C. for U.S. patients were co-signed by doctors in Nova Scotia.
“I think this is an arrangement between prescribers and pharmacies. So I don’t think there’s anything necessarily particular about Nova Scotia except that that’s where the practitioners are,” Dix said in the news conference.
“That’s a concern for us. What we’re not seeing is doctors in B.C. doing this. In fact, the doctors I talked to here in B.C. really want to ensure that their patients have access to this drug.”
Dix said in January that the government would be investigating why almost 10 per cent of prescriptions for the drug in B.C. were filled for American citizens.
Dix said at the time that the dramatic increase in demand for the diabetes drug was partly because of social media “influencers” who spoke about its weight loss benefits.
He said he asked PharmaCare, the publicly funded program that helps B.C. residents pay for some prescription drugs, to review the drug’s use by U.S. residents.
Dix announced in January that PharmaCare coverage of Ozempic would be widened to more patients with Type 2 diabetes, although it wouldn’t be part of regular benefit coverage.
Several celebrities in the United States have promoted the drug, even though it’s not approved for weight loss, setting off demand and sparking a shortage.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 28, 2023.