The B.C. government has announced that the number of Ozempic prescriptions being dispensed to Americans has plummeted by at least 99 per cent after the province enacted new regulations and a doctor behind an “unusually high percentage” of prescriptions was temporarily suspended.
From Jan. 1 to April 19 of this year, 30,700 Ozempic prescriptions were dispensed to U.S. residents by B.C. pharmacies. Between April 20 and May 31, that same number dropped to 111 — a 99.6 per cent reduction, according to a press release from the B.C. Ministry of Health.
The Ministry told Global News back in January that it was monitoring B.C.’s supply of Ozempic, a Type 2 diabetes drug that has made headlines for its off-label use as an obesity treatment, because of “recent social media trends and shortages in the United States.”
It appears those U.S. shortages were driving Americans to seek out the drug in Canada, driving fears that Canada would also face an Ozempic shortage as a result. During the first two months of 2023, B.C. discovered that up to 15 per cent of the drug’s prescriptions in the province were being sent south of the border.
On April 19, the province announced a new regulation that bars non-residents from buying Ozempic online and through mail-order sales. This doesn’t impact Canadians’ access to the drug, but it means that if an American wants to get an Ozempic prescription filled in B.C., they have to purchase it in person.
The regulation came after the province discovered that just two online B.C. pharmacies had filled 88 per cent of all prescriptions going to U.S. residents, and that 95 per cent of those prescriptions were being written by a single physician from Nova Scotia.
New regulations to protect B.C. supply of diabetes drug
On April 6, Nova Scotia’s College of Physicians and Surgeons announced it had temporarily suspended the doctor in question, who had written at least 17,000 prescriptions for Ozempic within three months.
That doctor has been identified as Dr. David Davison, a Nova-Scotia-licensed physician based in Odessa, Texas, who graduated from Dalhousie University in 1977.
Davison retained a Nova Scotia licence to practice medicine as a non-resident, though he hasn’t practised in the province “for many years,” said Dr. Gus Grant, registrar and CEO of Nova Scotia’s College of Physicians and Surgeons.
Grant said the college suspended the doctor’s licence on an “interim” basis and launched a full investigation, calling it a “serious matter.”
“Based on volume alone, the prescribing is not in keeping with the standards of the profession,” Grant said in a statement. “I cannot see how the volume of medications prescribed could possibly be supported by proper medical assessment and judgment. On its face, the prescribing appears incompetent.”
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Grant said it’s incumbent on doctors licensed in Nova Scotia to uphold proper prescription practices “whether the care is delivered in-person or by way of virtual medicine.”
As for the two online pharmacies based in B.C. that dispensed thousands of Ozempic prescriptions to Americans, B.C. announced that the College of Pharmacists is engaged in an ongoing investigation.
The province notes that B.C. pharmacies can fill prescriptions written by U.S. doctors if they are co-signed by a Canadian practitioner.
Ozempic is a brand-name diabetes medication manufactured by Novo Nordisk, but the medical ingredient in it is called semaglutide. Semaglutide works by mimicking a hormone called glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1), which stimulates the release of insulin and helps to reduce blood sugar spikes.
Semaglutide is also effective at regulating diet by targeting areas of the brain that make a person feel more full, and as such, is used as a weight-loss treatment.
Novo Nordisk actually manufactures two drugs where semaglutide is the only medical ingredient: Ozempic for Type 2 diabetes, and Wegovy for obesity. Both drugs have been approved for use in Canada — Ozempic since 2018 and Wegovy since 2021.
No Wegovy prescription has ever been filled in Canada, however, because of ongoing global shortages. Novo Nordisk said it had to postpone the drug’s release in Canada due to “unprecedented demand.”
Both Wegovy and Ozempic are administered through weekly injections. The only apparent difference between the two drugs is that Wegovy can be injected at a slightly higher dosage, according to Novo Nordisk medical factsheets.
— With files from The Canadian Press
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