Health Minister Adrian Dix’s announcement Tuesday that he was cracking down on the export of diabetes drug/social media celebrity sensation Ozempic came as no surprise to the group health benefits industry. It has been a concerning trend throughout the benefit world for months, the subject of various papers, webinars, and other discussions.
Ozempic usage has grown rapidly as more “celebrities” – mainly various Real Housewives and social media influencers – tout its weight loss effects. There have also been aggressive ad campaigns for the drug, further increasing demand.
The drug wasn’t designed for weight loss; it was created to treat Type 2 diabetes by helping manage blood sugar levels. If you do lose weight, you would have to stay on Ozempic for the rest of your life to keep it off.
Yet social media is full of suggestions on how to get your hands on Ozempic for weight loss. One suggestion: get it from Canada, which is why Dix acted.
Diabetes drugs are expensive, even with Pharmacare help. ICBA Benefits has more than 150,000 Canadians who rely on our benefit plans, and diabetes medication is the single most expensive prescribed drug category on every single one of our plan options. (Drugs treating mental health, anxiety, depression and sleeplessness are almost universally number two.)
So much B.C. Ozempic has flooded south—Dix says 15 per cent of all dispenses of Ozempic in B.C. in January and February went to Americans—that there is a national shortage for those who actually need the drug to treat diabetes.
Nineteen per cent of people prescribed B.C. Ozempic were American; a pretty obvious red flag when the average for every other drug was 0.4 per cent.
Watching Dix’s news conference, I couldn’t help but sense a bit of his annoyance in having to address this. In a health care system under all sorts of strain – rural ERs shutting down regularly, practitioners under unbelievable stress, one million British Columbians without a family doctor, shortages of cold and flu medication, and the ever-present danger of COVID-19 – American prescriptions for Ozempic must feel like a distraction from the real issues he would prefer to put his attention to.
No one becomes Minister of Health dreaming of dealing with the fallout from celebrity drug fads.
Nonetheless, Dix has done the correct thing by acting quickly and cracking down on Americans buying up Ozempic. It will be interesting to see how those regulations work, and if social media figures out another workaround.
Jordan Bateman is vice-president, communications and marketing, for the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association.