Diabetes patients left stranded as crucial drug becomes scarce

customer speaking with pharmacist

Thousands of Australians living with type 2 diabetes are struggling to access a crucial medicine. The problem is that those looking for a weight-loss quick-fix are stripping pharmacy shelves of supplies.

Demand for Ozempic, a non-insulin treatment for adults with type 2 diabetes, has skyrocketed since it was touted as the next weight loss ‘wonder drug’.

Ozempic is usually prescribed to diabetes patients to be taken once a week. The drug triggers the body’s ability to lower elevated blood sugar levels, helping patients to keep their levels under control.

But by greatly increasing the dose, and combined with improved diet and exercise, Ozempic functions very effectively as a weight-loss aid.

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A study of almost 2000 adults with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more (classified as obese), found the average weight loss for those taking Ozempic was 14.9 per cent, compared with just 2.4 per cent in the placebo group. The dose given in the trial was 2.4mg per week, whereas a typical dose for diabetes is 0.5 to 1mg per week.

Since the study was published, demand for the Ozempic has gone through the roof.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has approved the drug to treat diabetes, but is still examining its use as a weight-loss aid.

But that hasn’t stopped several online prescription services offering to prescribe Ozempic over the web and deliver the drug directly to consumers’ doors.

Read: Eating chocolate for breakfast could lead to weight loss: study

Statistics from the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) show demand for Ozempic jumped from 31,190 scripts in January 2021 to more than 168,000 scripts in March 2022.

The TGA, in conjunction with other Australian health authorities, has issued a joint statement encouraging prescribers to only authorise the drug to diabetes patients.

“If you have been prescribed Ozempic for type 2 diabetes, the TGA appreciates the importance of this medicine to you,” the statement reads.

“To ensure you have access to the supplies that are arriving in Australia contact your usual pharmacy as early as possible to have your prescription filled. This will give them time to arrange for the medicine to be available when you need it.”

Read: Prescription drug abuse a continuing problem for older Aussies

Ozempic manufacturer Novo Nordisk Pharmaceuticals has acknowledged the supply issues in Australia, but says there are sufficient supplies to cover the requirements of diabetes patients – though not enough to satisfy the weight-loss demand as well.

“We are also strongly encouraging pharmacists to limit dispensing to only one month of medication at a time,” the company says in a statement.

“Our priority is to ensure people living with type 2 diabetes are able to access Ozempic and we are taking actions towards continued stable supply.”

On top of the increased demand, supplies of Ozempic have also been hit by production delays. In January, a third-party supplier responsible for filling the Ozempic syringes was forced to halt production for quality-control reasons.

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