B.C. to restrict sales of diabetes drug Ozempic to non-Canadians as demand soars amid weight-loss claims

B.C. to restrict sales of diabetes drug Ozempic to non-Canadians as demand soars amid weight-loss claims

The province of British Columbia says it's planning to restrict how much Ozempic can be sold to people outside Canada as American demand for the diabetes drug surges, driven by celebrities and online influencers claiming it can help with weight loss.

Health Minister Adrian Dix on Tuesday said a provincial analysis found 15 per cent of Ozempic sales in the first two months of the year went to U.S. residents — a worryingly high rate, he said, considering the average for other drugs sold to Americans was less than half a per cent.

"This is concerning and, in my view, it has to stop ... the purpose of procuring the Ozempic for British Columbia patients is not to turn around and export it right back to the United States," Dix said during a news conference.

"It is necessary to take some action to ensure that patients in British Columbia get access and continue to have access to Ozempic."

Ozempic is largely intended for people who have Type 2 diabetes. Dix said the dramatic increase in demand for the drug was partly due to several celebrities in the United States having promoted the drug, even though it's not approved for weight loss.

Dix said B.C. isn't currently experiencing a shortage, but restrictions are being created to prevent that scenario.

"We don't have enough Ozempic in British Columbia to satisfy the American market, so there is that concern," he said.

Generally, Dix said, people in the U.S. order the medication online and have it delivered by mail.

88% of U.S. sales from 2 pharmacies, data shows

The data showed two pharmacies accounted for 88 per cent of B.C.'s Ozempic sales to American residents. Dix said both businesses were in Metro Vancouver, but did not name them.

Ninety-five per cent of prescriptions to those pharmacies were written in Nova Scotia, data showed, prompting Dix to call on that province's professional college to investigate why its practitioners are writing so many prescriptions.

In a statement, the College of Physicians of Nova Scotia said it only heard of B.C.'s concerns through media reports.

"We have reached out to the Ministry in B.C., as yet without response. We have no knowledge or details beyond that which is in the media. When further details are known, the College will investigate," wrote Dr. Gus Grant, the college's CEO.

WATCH | Doctor says Ozempic isn't a solution for most people trying to lose weight:

Dix stopped short of calling for an investigation into the pharmacies in B.C., but said he "would be interested in any review of the [pharmacies] in question."

The College of Pharmacists of B.C., which licenses and regulates pharmacies and pharmacists in B.C., declined interviews on Tuesday.

"The college will be assessing the situation to determine an appropriate path forward," it said in an email.

Demand for drug rising nationwide: pharmacy association

Dix 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 in January.

That month, the minister said PharmaCare coverage of Ozempic would be widened to more patients with Type 2 diabetes, although it wouldn't be part of regular benefit coverage.

Demand across the country has risen steadily over the last year, according to the Neighbourhood Pharmacy Association of Canada, which represents most of the major pharmacy chains as well as many community drugstores.

Ozempic costs between $200 and $300 per month in Canada.

WATCH | TikTok's fixation with Ozempic and the diet culture lifestyle:

People who need the drug for diabetes or other health conditions likely need it for life, with studies showing weight often comes back after patients stop taking their dose.

Ozempic's manufacturer, Novo Nordisk, also got Health Canada approval in 2021 for a drug called Wegovy. Ozempic and Wegovy have the identical active ingredient — semaglutide — but Wegovy is a higher dose to specifically treat obesity.

Health Canada has also approved Wegovy for people who are overweight and also suffering from a serious weight-related condition such as hypertension, diabetes or obstructive sleep apnea.

Semaglutide works by acting like a hormone called glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1), which promotes insulin production and also stimulates part of the brain that controls appetite.

Patients take it by injection once a week.

Only prescribe for type 2 diabetes: company

On Tuesday Novo Nordisk said in an email to CBC News that it has been working in close collaboration with the province to limit the sale of Ozempic.

"We support their efforts to protect the supply of this medicine for Canadians living with type 2 diabetes," it said. "We've also engaged Health Canada on this issue in the hopes of identifying a national solution."

The company is asking Canadian physicians to only prescribe Ozempic for people living with type 2 diabetes.

It also said there was temporary shortage of the drug that was resolved on March 24.

"At this time, we do not foresee any further shortages of Ozempic for the Canadian market," said the statement.

A statement from the office of the federal minister of health also said that there is no active shortage of Ozempic in the country.

"The Minister of Health is ready to collaborate with provinces and territories, and we support the province of British Columbia in taking action to prevent any potential shortages of Ozempic in the province," said the statement.

"Health Canada will do its part to help prevent and mitigate the situation to ensure that patients living with diabetes can access the medication they need and rely on."