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Ozempic shortage impacting Alberta diabetics

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Calgary-area diabetics say the highest dosage of Ozempic is not available anywhere, due to a national shortage of the drug.

"I just took my last dose. I think it was on Saturday morning," said type 2 diabetic Jack Stevenson, who lives in Chestermere.

"I take it weekly and so I was kind of worried, obviously, that if I can't get it, what do I replace it with?"

Stevenson takes the 1 mg dose of Ozempic, which has seen stock shortages across Canada for several months.

He realized there was a shortage this past weekend when he was looking to refill his prescription.

"Maybe it's a sign of the times. It's the first time that we haven't been able to get one of the medications, the prescriptions that we're on," he said.

"You've seen all the heavy advertising for Ozempic. So why are you going to heavily advertise it when you can't supply it? Like, it doesn't make sense."

Type 2 diabetic Jack Stevenson, who lives in Chestermere, takes the 1 mg dose of Ozempic, which has seen stock shortages across Canada for several months.

Novo Nordisk advertises the drug in Canada and says it's experiencing a "temporary supply disruption" due to global supply constraints, coupled with increased demand.

"We have been proactively working with our global colleagues, Health Canada, and medication shipment partners to address this issue to mitigate patient impact in Canada," a statement from the company read.

"In the short term, we encourage patients to limit refill prescriptions to a 30-day supply and contact their pharmacy ahead of running out of their current supply."

It suggests patients talk to their physician about how best to manage their diabetes.

"Physicians and pharmacists have resources to effectively support type 2 diabetes management and care," it read.

"We sincerely apologize for any disruption to care that may be experienced and we appreciate the patience and understanding of the health-care professional community and patients."

Dan Burton, clinical pharmacist and co-founder of Apothecare Pharmacy, says they can offer a smaller dosage.

"Fortunately, we do have access to the Ozempic 0.25 and 0.5 mg pens, but even they are in limited stock," he said.

"We can only get five a day, but at least we can kind of play with that. That works for some people whose (insurance) plans do allow for coverage of two pens or three pens a month, but some plans don't. So that again handicaps some people in getting their medication and so we're kind of stuck in this holding pattern."

Ozempic has also been used to help with weight loss, which has driven up demand.

"It's the balancing act of, 'Well, who do we then triage, do we say you can get the medication or not?'" Burton said.

"For both patients, it is a chronic disease and in a lot of cases, people who have obesity also have concurrent diabetes as well. So it's a balancing act. It's not an easy place for us as health-care providers to be at."

Dan Burton, clinical pharmacist and co-founder of Apothecare Pharmacy, says they can offer a smaller dosage of Ozempic.

Stevenson says diabetic patients should come first.

"Is there a pecking order in terms of type 2 diabetics and then people who are on it for weight loss or is everybody just thrown in this kind of together?" he said.

"Because if you're on for weight loss and you don't really need it right away, you can wait."

Health Canada has yet to announce when the drug may be restocked, saying Novo Nordisk reported it would be resolved by the middle of this month, but that timeframe came and went.

"Health Canada recognizes the importance of Ozempic for patients living with diabetes and we are doing our part to ensure that these patients can access the medication they rely on," a statement read.

"Patients may experience short-term delays receiving the 1 mg pens given these issues, however, Health Canada is working with partners and stakeholders to minimize and where possible avoid patient impacts."

Health Canada says it has never approved the use of Ozempic for weight loss.

"This is not an indication approved by Health Canada," its website reads.

"The decision to prescribe a drug for off-label use is part of the 'practice of medicine.' It involves the health-care professional diagnosing a patient's symptoms and deciding which treatment would be most appropriate for that patient."

Burton says there needs to be a stronger call from government bodies.

"To say we're going to seclude it and give it to just one patient population over the other, we're on a slippery slope if we suddenly decide to start doing that, so it's important to look at the bigger picture and look at our governments and regulatory bodies." 

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