British Columbia wants to work with the federal government to ensure prescription drugs are available to Canadians and don’t end up sold over the internet to American customers, Health Minister Adrian Dix said Wednesday.
Dix said the federal and provincial governments worked together during the COVID-19 pandemic to secure and provide vaccines and he suggested a similar approach is required with prescription drugs.
B.C. introduced a regulation Wednesday to immediately ensure Type 2 diabetes patients don’t face a shortage of the drug Ozempic, touted for its weight loss side-effects and the recent focus of the sale of almost 16,000 Canadian doses to patients in the United States.
Health Minister Adrian Dix said the change will ensure patients in B.C. and Canada who need Ozempic to treat their diabetes will continue to have access to that medication and other drugs that may require protection in the future.
“I do think the issue of internet pharmacies is one the federal government will have to look at as they go forward,” Dix said at a news conference. “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with dispensing through the internet if all the rules are followed to Canadians, but sending tens of thousands of doses to the United States doesn’t make any sense.”
The regulation will help prevent online or mail-order sales of Ozempic to people who don’t live in Canada and who are not in B.C. to make a purchase, he said.
“We do not bring drugs to B.C. for them to be re-exported to the United States,” Dix said. “Here in Canada, we have to protect the interests of B.C. patients. This is a legislated regulation response to a real problem. This action will address this problem.”
The changes come after the discovery that about 15 per cent of Ozempic prescriptions in B.C. were being filled at two Vancouver locations for shipment to the United States.
Earlier this month, the Nova Scotia College of Physicians and Surgeons suspended the licence of a doctor living in the United States who the college said wrote thousands of prescriptions for Ozempic.
Dix said he has spoken with federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos about the Ozempic issue and wider issues surrounding prescription drugs and the minister has been “supportive.”
“There’s a federal role here,” said Dix. “This is the international trade of a valuable product, a valuable product to B.C. patients that is significant for their health and Canadian patients. We can work out under the Food and Drugs Act how we can do that together.”
The minister said he did not have a cost estimate of the recent Ozempic sales to the United States, but the profit potential was likely lucrative.
“There’s a lot of money involved in this drug and a lot of interest,” Dix said. “This was the mass sale by the internet of a prescription drug we need.”
He said the B.C. regulation can be amended to include other prescription drugs beyond Ozempic, but he suggested a national policy monitoring prescription drug exports would help prevent future drug issues.
“I think there’s a national issue,” Dix said. “You don’t want to play whack-a-mole. That’s why national action is required.”
Dix said the College of Pharmacists of BC will be responsible for ensuring its registrants comply with the new regulation.
The government said in a statement that increasingly, U.S. customers are turning to Canadian online pharmacies to purchase drugs at prices lower than at home.
Dix said he’s directed BC PharmaCare, the provincially funded program that helps patients pay for drugs, to continue to monitor and review the data on Ozempic to assess the impact of the new regulation.
BC PharmaCare provides coverage for Ozempic as a second-line therapy for Type 2 diabetes to help patients manage blood-sugar levels when metformin is not effective.
The cost is not reimbursed for weight loss.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 19, 2023.
Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press