With shortages of Ozempic at U.S. pharmacies, some Americans have been turning to Canada and Mexico to buy the medication, a Type 2 diabetes treatment many people are using off-label to lose weight.
They’re also seeking lower prices: Insurance typically doesn’t cover weight-loss drugs, so out-of-pocket costs can be steep. The list price for Ozempic is almost $900 per injector pen, which is typically a month’s supply.
Videos posted on social media have been touting lower prices for and easier access to Ozempic in Canada.
But one Canadian province is now cracking down on the practice. In British Columbia, officials announced Tuesday they will limit the sale of Ozempic for non-Canadian residents to “protect the supply of this drug for residents of B.C. and Canada who need it,” the Ministry of Health said in a statement.
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In January and February of 2023, 15% of the Ozempic prescriptions filled in British Columbia went to U.S. residents, an “unusually high” percentage, the agency noted. U.S. residents also made up 19% of all patients who were dispensed the drug by a pharmacy in the province, while the average of other drugs sold to Americans is 0.4%, officials added.
“This is concerning, and in my view, it has to stop,” Adrian Dix, British Columbia’s Minister of Health, said in a news conference.
“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,” he added in a statement.
U.S. & World
Canada requires a Canadian practitioner to sign off on a prescription from a doctor in the U.S. This week’s actions are not a complete ban on Ozempic sales to U.S. residents seeking to buy the drug in British Columbia, but officials are going to keep an eye on the situation, said NBC’s Stephanie Gosk.
American Amber Bahr said she’s been getting Ozempic from Canada for the past few months and pays $365 including shipping from a Canadian pharmacy, compared to $975 if she were to get the drug from local pharmacies. Bahr said she’s lost 28 pounds since November with Ozempic and is worried what the new policy will do.
“I also feel that I’m on the medication for the same reason that somebody that has Type 2 diabetes is on it,” Bahr told TODAY.
“My options of getting it without paying a lot of money are not looking great for me right now.”
Ozempic is not approved for weight loss by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. That distinction goes to its sister drug, Wegovy, which contains the same active ingredient, semaglutide. Wegovy's list price is also expensive at $1,349 for a month’s supply. Both drugs are made by Novo Nordisk.
The pharmaceutical company’s Canadian division told TODAY it’s collaborating with the government of British Columbia on the new policy, adding, “We are also asking Canadian physicians to only prescribe Ozempic for people living with Type 2 diabetes.”
To date, British Columbia has not experienced any shortages of Ozempic, health officials said in their statement. But in the U.S., both Ozempic and Wegovy are listed as “currently in shortage” by the FDA.
What’s really in short supply is the injector pen that comes with Ozempic or Wegovy, NBC’s senior medical correspondent Dr. John Torres previously told TODAY. Some people are turning to compounding pharmacies for copycat treatments, but consumers won't know exactly what they're getting with that strategy, he warned.
Experts also say it’s risky to order Ozempic or Wegovy for weight loss without consulting your doctor. The medications come with potential side effects such as nausea and stomach pain.
Some patients told NBC News the side effects were so severe they stopped taking the drugs or questioned whether they could stay on them long-term. Novo Nordisk said patients experiencing nausea as a side effect should contact their health care provider for guidance about ways to manage it.
This story first appeared on TODAY.com. More from TODAY: