Ontario limits access to Ozempic to conserve supplies for diabetics
The Ontario government is taking steps to restrict access to Ozempic and preserve its supply for people with type 2 diabetes under a province-funded program amid a shortage due to popular demand for the weight-loss drug.
As of Wednesday, people who do not have type 2 diabetes will no longer have coverage for the drug under the Ontario Drug Abuse Program (ODB), according to the Ministry of Health.
“This step was taken to preserve supplies for those who need Ozempic the most, and links Ontario with many other provinces that have taken steps to protect their supply,” Ministry of Health spokeswoman Hannah Jensen said in a statement to CBC News Wednesday.
Ozempic, one of several brand names for a drug known as semaglutide, is a weekly injection that helps lower blood sugar levels by helping the pancreas produce more insulin, and belongs to a class of drugs known as glucagon-like peptide 1, or GLP1s.
Currently, ODB and OHIP+ cover most of the cost of nearly 5,000 prescription drugs for all seniors over age 65, people age 24 or younger who are not covered by a private insurance plan, people living in long-term care homes, and in addition To people who receive Ontario Works or Ontario Disability Support Program funding or are enrolled in the Trillium Drug Program.
The ministry said moving Ozempic from the general benefit category to limited use under its program means that any patient seeking a prescription for the drug must meet clinical criteria.
The change, which aims to help pharmacies and patients experiencing shortages of Ozempic and similar medications, is necessary at this time, said Sanjeev Sukalingam, scientific director of Obesity Canada and a professor of psychiatry at the University of Toronto. But Sukalingam said the ministry should also reconsider restrictions on obese individuals.
“My understanding is that the government’s response to do this is limited to people who qualify for type 2 diabetes,” Sukalingam said.
“I think this decision really speaks to the shortage of Ozempic or semaglutide more broadly that is in the system and this class of drugs that are used to treat diabetes, but also for those who are obese.”
watched Ontario limits access to Ozempic:
Patients under the program who will no longer qualify for the drug under the new “limited use” criteria will have to pay out of pocket for the drug if it is for weight loss. Sockalingam says that means between $450 and $500 per month.
An Ontario woman ‘felt robbed’ during the shortage
Whitby, Ontario, resident Linda Williston uses Ozempic to treat type 2 diabetes. She said the drug was a big help in controlling her blood glucose until a deficiency occurred and she was no longer able to get the shot last year.
“Unfortunately, when it was in short supply, I had to go down, and that’s when I noticed how much it helped me,” Williston said.
Williston said she was prescribed a similar medication, but it was not as strong. When Ozempic was back in stock at pharmacies, she went back to taking the medication and noticed a big difference.
“It was very upsetting because I knew some people were taking it for weight issues, and even though that’s great for them, it was taking my medication away and that was very upsetting and upsetting,” Williston told CBC News.
“I felt robbed because I knew it was something that would help me medically. I thought it would be like someone walking up to you and taking your crutches and then saying ‘yeah you can walk, and you’re still fine’. But I was like no.”
Drugs for obesity should be considered: health professionals
Kero Masih, pharmacist and owner of Lawlor Pharmasave in Toronto, said his pharmacy, like all others in the province, has seen a shortage of Ozempic over the past six months.
“It is important to customize the drug for diabetic patients. But in the future, I think this should also be considered for obese patients,” Massé said on Wednesday.
“Obesity carries a very heavy social and health burden and has many health care costs.”
Massé said that he saw firsthand the positive results that some patients obtained after losing weight as a result of taking the drug.
“It may be anecdotal from my perspective, but it’s certainly worth looking at from a county perspective and considering the impact that declining obesity rates might have on the overall cost of health care,” he said.
Sukalingam shares this view, saying that obesity should be recognized as a chronic and complex medical condition similar to diabetes and other chronic conditions.
“It’s important for us to take a broader look at the policy level, whether that’s around provincial government formulas as well as health insurance and private health insurance,” he said.
“We have treatments available and we need to think about how we evaluate those treatments like other medical conditions to make sure they are accessible. It’s not just this drug, it’s all the available drugs that are now approved that are indicated for obesity.” We really need to think about how we get it to the patients who need it most.”