Irshadgul News report,
Thousands of people in the United States are getting their Ozempic this year from pharmacies in British Columbia, prompting the province to announce a ban on sales to avoid local shortages of the diabetes drug.
At a press conference Tuesday, Health Minister Adrian Dix detailed the results of an Interior Ministry investigation into the cross-border issue, saying nearly one in five Ozempic prescriptions in B.C. went to U.S. residents in the first two months of the year.
The investigation found that most of those prescriptions were issued in Nova Scotia and filled by two Metro Vancouver pharmacies.
Here’s how America’s shoppers are turning to pharmacies north of the border — and why.
What is Ozempic?
Ozempic is the brand name of an injectable drug primarily prescribed for the treatment of type 2 diabetes.
Bernie Garrett, a professor in the School of Nursing at the University of British Columbia (UBC), said it’s also effective for weight loss — although there are significant risks associated with it, including thyroid cancer as a potential side-effect.
BC Diabetes has also noted its potential for weight loss.
Why is there so much demand?
Buyers who may not have diabetes are seeking the drug because celebrities, advertisements and people on social media exaggerate its potential for weight loss.
The drug is not approved in Canada as a weight loss treatment, but Dix said demand from the US is outpacing supply across the country.
Patients in the US are turning to Canadian pharmacies to buy drugs cheaper. In BC, a month of Ozempic costs about $300 – about a third of the US price.
Prescription drugs may cost less in Canada after a federal agency sets the maximum price a company can charge for patented drugs. In America, pharmaceutical companies are free to take decisions.
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Dozens of users on TikTok and Reddit trade information on how to access the drug in Canada. Some say they cannot afford the drug in the US without insurance, or that their insurance will not cover the drug without a diabetes diagnosis.
People who have gotten the drug from Canadian pharmacies say the drug is shipped within a few weeks, sealed in a package with an ice pack.
How are people in the US getting Ozempic from Canada?
In the first two months of the year, more than 15 percent of Ozempic prescriptions in BC were being filled for US patients.
By comparison, less than half a percent of other drugs in B.C. were prescribed to non-residents.
Americans can also cross the border to buy prescription drugs in Canada, and this has become more common in recent years. Americans who do so still need a prescription from a physician licensed in Canada to purchase Canadian pharmaceuticals.
They can visit a walk-in clinic and pay for the visit out of their own pocket. Some Americans living near the border may have a family doctor in Canada.
Is it legal for pharmacists to ship Ozempic out of the country?
As long as the prescription is written or co-signed by a Canadian prescriber, it is legal for a pharmacist to fill that prescription and ship it to the patient.
It is not unusual to send medication by mail, for example, if the patient is a Canadian snowbird who lives in the US part time.
Nevertheless, pharmacists have the right to refuse prescriptions that arrive over their counters.
“If you know it’s for off-label use … and if it’s not for a patient you know, as a pharmacist, I would have second thoughts about whether it’s a drug supply.” Whether or not it’s the right treatment decision is up to British Columbians,” said Barbara Gobis, a pharmacist and director of the Pharmacist Clinic at UBC.
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If it’s legal, why is the province restricting the sale?
Dix said the province wants to preserve its stock of Ozempic to ensure that British Columbians with type 2 diabetes can access the drug. The province is not currently experiencing a shortage, but Dix said “the trend is in that direction.”
This same year, the provincial government expanded access to Ozempic for British Columbians through PharmaCare’s special authorization program.
Dix said Tuesday that the province does not have enough stock to help British Columbians and “satisfy the American market.”
Has Ozampic fallen short elsewhere?
Demand for Ozempic has prompted a shortage in the United States.
Canada experienced a temporary national shortage of the one-milligram format of the drug in March, but Health Canada and the drug’s manufacturer told CBC News the issue was resolved last week.