TGA instructs GPs to limit Ozempic to diabetics

GPs have been instructed to restrict access to the drug Ozempic to diabetes patients only after a social media weight-loss craze caused a run on supplies.

Last week, reports emerged that thousands of diabetes patients across Australia were having trouble accessing the drug semaglutide, sold under the brand name Ozempic, due to its widespread prescribing as a weight-loss treatment.

Now, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has issued instructions to GPs and pharmacists to limit access to the medication to diabetes patients only.

“Limiting prescribing of semaglutide to people with type 2 diabetes is essential,” the TGA says.

“Health professionals should inform people with type 2 diabetes about the semaglutide shortage and advise them to contact their pharmacy as soon as possible with their prescription to ensure supply.

“People requesting a semaglutide prescription for obesity management should be advised of alternative treatment options as people using Ozempic for the registered indication of type 2 diabetes are being prioritised.”

Ozempic, manufactured by Dutch pharmaceutical firm Novo Nordisk, helps treat diabetes by suppressing the appetite and stimulating the body’s insulin production. Naturally, reducing appetite can also have a dramatic effect on weight.

The drug is officially approved in Australia only for the treatment of diabetes, but can be prescribed ‘off-label’ by doctors for weight loss.

The drug became popular with TikTok influencers, and soon users began documenting their weight-loss journeys under the hashtags such as #ozempic, #ozempicjourney and #ozempicaustralia.

Demand for Ozempic surged, with Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) data showing prescriptions jumped from 31,190 in January 2021 to more than 168,000 in March 2022.

Supplies of Ozempic soon became strained and the manufacturer issued a statement saying the unexpected demand meant stockpiles would not be fully replenished until later this month.

“I haven’t seen that medication in my pharmacy’s fridge for some time, unfortunately, and according to the medication shortage notices, stock may not be expected until mid-June,” says Anthony Tassone, president of the Victorian branch of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia.

“Pharmacists are doing everything they can to help patients by placing it on back order or seeking it from other pharmacies, but [they] may need to refer patients back to the doctor for an alternative in the meantime.”

Apart from depriving diabetes patients of potentially lifesaving medicine, using Ozempic for weight-loss presents a number of side-effects including indigestion, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and/or constipation.

Royal Australian College of General Practitioners president Dr Karen Price told The Guardian the full effects of using Ozempic as a weight-loss aid were not yet fully understood.

“There are lots of issues people need to be aware of, but most importantly, it’s not yet approved in Australia or the UK for weight loss,” she says.

“It’s being used off-label, which means that this huge demand is now stopping people who have a genuine need for the medication for their diabetes.

“Most people can see the ethical dilemma there.”

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