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B.C. wants federal clamp on weight and diabetes drug Ozempic being exported to U.S.

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British Columbia wants a federal government clamp down on prescription rules after thousands of doses of the hyped weight-loss drug Ozempic went to Americans, doled out by a single practitioner in Nova Scotia.

Health Minister Adrian Dix said Tuesday that he's asking provincial and federal regulators to look into two Metro Vancouver pharmacies and the Nova Scotia practitioner responsible for thousands of Ozempic prescriptions issued to Americans in the first two months of 2023.

Though the injectable drug is prescribed mainly to treat diabetes, Dix said Ozempic's weight loss side-effects have been hyped up by advertising and celebrity-driven social media chatter.

“The drug's popularity on social media, and the, I think, almost unprecedented campaign of advertising for the drug, is driving a surge in demand and is resulting in shortages of Ozempic, not yet in British Columbia, but in other jurisdictions, including the United States,” Dix said.

He said the province is taking action to ensure patients in B.C. continue to have access to the drug and avoid potential shortages.

In the first two months of 2023, Dix said upwards of 15 per cent of Ozempic prescriptions in B.C. were being filled for American patients who receive the medication by mail.

Dix said the situation involving Ozempic is “unacceptable,” and noted that less than half a per cent of other drugs in B.C. are prescribed to non-residents.

“We would never have sufficient supply of Ozempic in British Columbia to satisfy the needs of the American market,” he said. “We have to protect patients here.”

The minister said it doesn't make sense to allow the province's supply to be drained and exported, driven by increased demand from Americans who have long turned to Canada as a source of cheaper prescription drugs.

He said the province is working with the drug's supplier to ensure there's enough Ozempic for diabetes patients in B.C.

A federal government review would be under the Food and Drugs Act “to address the concerning number of Ozempic prescriptions emanating from practitioners in one province,” Dix said.

He said he's asking the B.C. College of Physicians and Surgeons to ensure pharmacies are following drug dispensing rules because of the “unusually high” number of prescriptions being filled for non-Canadian residents.

Provincial and federal regulators need to work together to protect the supply of in-demand medications and avoid “mass exportation” of a drug needed by Canadian patients, Dix said.

“It's a national problem. It's a problem across the 10 provinces. This is a drug that's in demand. There's significant off label use that we all know about related to weight loss,” he said. “We need to take some action.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 28, 2023.

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