Data from the Federal Department of Health shows that the number of scripts issued monthly for the drug increased sixfold nationwide in 2021 to more than 86,000 in December, which is seen as a response to its approval. as a treatment for obesity abroad.
Ozempic is a Schedule 4 drug, which is a prescribed and restricted substance that cannot be advertised to the public under TGA code guidelines.
The code exists to ensure that medicine advertising is socially responsible, promotes only quality use and does not mislead or mislead – but has a broad definition of advertising. The TGA guidelines specifically refer to when influencers in business relationships promote the drug because of a business relationship.
Heffernan said social media posts from unpaid influencers could prevent diabetes patients from getting their medications.
“With social networks, increasing the popularity of drugs… everyone [is] saying in cafes saying, ‘Damn, you gotta get on that drug, I’ve lost five pounds in two weeks.’ ”
The Herald of the Sun and Sunday age contacted 10 pharmacies in Sydney’s eastern suburbs and only one had stock. The others had waiting lists of over 100 people. Further calls to other areas of Sydney revealed higher supply levels.
Bondi Pharmacy pharmacist Pam Sack said she initially saw an increase in people buying the drug in December. Between February and April, the number of scripts completed each day “doubled and tripled”.
It is now out of stock. “It has taken off so much in terms of off-label prescribing; they had not anticipated the huge demand.
She said she filled out Ozempic scripts for people “young and old”, noting that there were “not just people trying to fit into their bikinis”, but also people using the drug. to lose weight for health reasons.
A diabetic unable to access her usual Ozempic script for six weeks earlier this year said she experienced dangerously high blood sugar and bacterial infections during that time.
While the Royal Australian College of GPs generally encourages doctors to “use caution” with off-label prescriptions, it “needs to be done from time to time”, said RACGP vice-president Dr Bruce Willett..
“Sometimes a drug will have good research to support its use, but the company may not have the commercial interest to have it registered for that use,” he said, noting that off-label prescribing was commonly used. to provide older style antidepressants to chronic pain patients.
“The important thing to remember with all weight loss drugs is that they are never a standalone solution.”
Associate Professor Samantha Hocking, an endocrinologist and obesity specialist at the Charles Perkins Center at the University of Sydney, said obese people need better access to drugs that help with weight loss.
“When people lose weight, there’s a physiological response to keep your body from losing weight, your hormones that control appetite change,” she said. “Pharmacotherapy to maintain weight loss is essential.”
Hocking said she believed the lower price of Ozempic compared to the alternative weight loss drug Saxenda, which is not listed on the PBS, was likely the reason GPs chose to prescribe it.
“It’s not like people get it from TikTok or a black market pharmacy – someone makes the decision that this person needs the drug to lose weight and is willing to prescribe off-label drugs “, she said.
“Social media popularity is one of them, but there are probably a lot of other people who are being prescribed this drug because they’re struggling to lose weight.”
A spokesperson for the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia said it had heard “anecdotally” that the stock was slowly returning to more manageable levels, but advised people with type 2 diabetes who are struggling to access their medication to get their prescription early from a single pharmacy, as they were working through waiting lists.
“Telephoning multiple pharmacies with stock requests is unlikely to be successful and can put pressure on the supply chain,” they said.
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