Perth woman Leonie, 60, is facing a life-changing diagnosis.
“My life will be shortened, my quality of life will not be the same,” she said.
Leonie has been told she has peripheral neuropathy, a type of nerve damage, in her feet.
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This is believed to be caused by her inability to access the diabetes drug semaglutide, better known by its brand name Ozempic.
The weekly injection is an antidiabetic drug approved to lower blood sugar in adults with type 2 diabetes.
But its off-label use to help people lose weight has led to a global shortage of Ozempic and increased demand, with widespread discussion of the drug on social media.
Last year 175,000 Australian patients accessed Ozempic through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and so far this year, that has jumped to more than 268,000 users.
A spokesman for the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) said Danish pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk had advised its Ozempic supplies for Australia in 2023 would be higher than the previous year.
“They continue to increase production capacity, but it will take time to build supply levels to meet global and local demand,” they said.
Recommendations made by the TGA in September, asking prescribers not to initiate new patients on Ozempic, still stood, the spokesman said, but were not legally binding.
“In terms of advice for healthcare professionals, these are strong recommendations based on extensive input from clinical and patient representatives, but they are not enforced by law or regulation,” they said.
Inconsistent supply of “roller coaster” for patients
Leoni, who first started taking Ozempic in February 2021, went without it for a year when she ran out in May 2022.
As the drug is again out of stock, she is now on the last injection pen.
“My sugars are now down after being too high for the year and they are well under control and a little too late for my health,” she said.
Leonie said she was frustrated when she saw people approach the weight loss drug when she was genetically predisposed to diabetes and needed Ozempic to stay healthy.
“To take an injection from someone with a disease who is already sick with this, I can’t fathom crossing myself,” she said.
Leonie said unclear timelines for renewal made her hesitant to start her script again.
“I don’t think your body or your mind can keep doing that; you can’t take a drug, then stop it, then take it and then stop it and go back to it.”
Rachel Davies, an online diabetes education co-ordinator in Perth, has been struggling to access Ozempic for her type 2 diabetes since March last year.
She described the situation as a “roller coaster”.
“Every time I can’t get a steady supply, I go back into the cycle of nausea and vomiting and really nasty side effects to get used to the drug again,” she said.
“It was quite challenging.
Diabetics remained in a “dangerous” situation
Pharmacy Guild of Australia branch president Andrew Ngeow said the global shortage was expected to be long and sustained, especially given the sharp demand curve.
“Time and time again, we see a little bit of supply coming in, but certainly, generally speaking, the demand for the product completely outstrips the supply that we see,” he said.
Mr Ngeov said Ozempik’s off-label prescription had spurred interest in the drug far more than expected and left type 2 diabetics in a difficult position.
“What we’re seeing here once again is that prescribers are just not following the guidelines, and I think that’s creating a situation where it’s dangerous for the people who need it the most,” he said.
Diabetes WA telehealth manager Jess Weiss said the global Ozempic shortage had a significant impact on Australian patients living with diabetes.
“It creates a lot of pain and a lot of anger,” she said.
“People feel really lost about what to do, especially if they’re relying on this drug to help them cope.”
Ms Weiss said patients who are concerned about their medication should talk to their pharmacist or doctor about making an alternative plan.
“It really comes down to using other aspects of your health care team to try and come up with as many other strategies as possible to manage and support your diabetes until this drug shortage ends,” she said.
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Image Source : www.abc.net.au