Thousands of United States citizens are getting Ozempic from pharmacies in British Columbia, and in doing so are straining the province’s supply of the Type 2 diabetes medication, which is being touted online as a weight-loss drug, B.C.’s Health Minister says.
The Health Minister, Adrian Dix, told a news conference Tuesday that an internal investigation by his ministry had found that almost 13,000 U.S. residents had obtained the drug from B.C. pharmacies in January and February, accounting for almost one in five of all Ozempic prescriptions in the province. Of those prescriptions, 95 per cent were issued from Nova Scotia by “one or more” prescribers, and most were fulfilled by two Metro Vancouver-area pharmacies, he said.
“This is concerning and, in my view, it has to stop,” Mr. Dix added. “We don’t have enough Ozempic in British Columbia to satisfy the American market.”
Demand for Ozempic has driven shortages of the medication in the United States, which has made obtaining it more difficult for people with diabetes. Canada experienced a temporary national shortage of the drug’s one-milligram format in March. B.C. does not have a shortage right now, Mr. Dix said, but “the trend is in that direction.”
Increasingly, U.S. customers are turning to Canadian online pharmacies to purchase drugs at what, to them, are discount prices. A month’s supply of Ozempic in B.C. costs roughly $300. The price in the U.S. can be three times higher.
Mr. Dix said his government will amend its regulations to curb the sale of Ozempic to people outside of Canada, with the aim of ensuring that B.C. patients with Type 2 diabetes can access it. He is also asking the province’s relevant regulatory colleges to ensure that doctors and pharmacists dispensing Ozempic are complying with the product’s approved use. Weight loss is a side effect of Ozempic, but it is not approved for use as a weight-loss treatment.
Mr. Dix said he is not seeking sanctions against the two Metro Vancouver pharmacies involved. But he said he is asking the regulatory agency for Nova Scotia’s physicians to investigate the conduct of one or more physicians who appear to be working with the pharmacies in what he described as an internet-based sales scheme.
Gus Grant, chief executive and registrar of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Nova Scotia, said the college first heard about the concern through the media.
“We have reached out to the ministry in B.C., as yet without response,” Dr. Grant said in a statement on Tuesday. “We have no knowledge or details beyond that which is in the media. When further details are known, the College will investigate.”
The College of Pharmacists of B.C. said in a statement Tuesday that it is aware of Mr. Dix’s announcement and will be assessing the situation to determine next steps. Pharmacies in B.C. can fill prescriptions for patients written by U.S. doctors if they are co-signed by a Canadian practitioner.
There are many postings on Internet message boards from Americans inquiring about purchasing Ozempic in Canada. The writers often say they either do not have insurance, or that their insurance plans do not cover the medication. Some online pharmacies offer price-matching guarantees and ship the drug from Canada in ice packs.
B.C.’s PharmaCare program provides limited coverage for Ozempic as a therapy for Type 2 diabetes. The drug can help patients manage blood sugar levels when metformin, another diabetes drug, is not effective.
The Globe and Mail reported last summer that Ozempic has become wildly popular in Canada among people wanting to lose weight. An analysis in August by the Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health, an independent organization that advises governments on drug policy, found that in some provinces 36 per cent to 74 per cent of non-public drug plan claims for Ozempic were from people who likely did not have Type 2 diabetes.