Some Pharmacies Are Now Refusing to Stock Ozempic
The popular drug is becoming harder to get your hands on.
Drug shortages are nothing new these days. Since the pandemic, many of us have become accustomed to hearing that our medications are in short supply, from Adderall to all types of antibiotics. But if you're looking for Ozempic, the buzzed-about diabetes drug that's helping some people lose massive amounts of weight, you may not be able to get your hands on it even if your doctor gives you a prescription. This is not necessarily due to a shortage (there certainly is one), but because pharmacies are choosing not to stock it in the first place.
NBC News recently reported that some independent pharmacists have decided that carrying Ozempic isn't worth it. Nate Hux, owner of Pickerington Pharmacy in Ohio, told the outlet that he stopped stocking the medication last summer after realizing it wasn't good for business. Read on to find out why he, and others, are telling customers to look elsewhere if they want to fill their Ozempic prescriptions.
Ozempic is wildly popular right now.
Even if you're not taking Ozempic or know someone who is, you've probably seen the headlines about celebrities using the drug to lose weight. Or maybe you've heard about "Ozempic face" and wondered what, exactly, it is. (For the record, Ozempic face refers to the hollow cheeks and sagging skin many patients develop after losing a large amount of weight quickly.) According to The Wall Street Journal, J.P. Morgan analysts reported that doctors in the U.S. prescribed Ozempic to more than 313,000 people during the last week of January—a 78 percent jump from the year before.
Keri Hurley-Kim, PharmD, Associate Clinical Professor at University of California, Irvine School of Pharmacy & Pharmaceutical Sciences, told Best Life that drugs like Ozempic "are increasing in popularity as a treatment for obesity, but also for diabetes (their originally researched indication). They are some of the most effective medications we have for both conditions." She says that because Ozempic is given as "a single injection each week" it's a very easy option for many people.
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There's some confusion about what, exactly, Ozempic is.
Ozempic is the brand name for semaglutide, Hurley-Kim explains, noting that the drug is also sold under the brand name Wegovy. "Wegovy is FDA-approved for weight loss and is available in slightly higher doses, while Ozempic is approved for diabetes," she says. "Because they are the same drug, Ozempic is often used off-label for weight loss if Wegovy is not available or not covered by insurance."
Hurley-Kim says both Ozempic and Wegovy "have fewer safety concerns and extra benefits compared to other weight loss and diabetes medications." For example, when used for weight loss, she says they can prevent diabetes in those with pre-diabetes, and they can lower the risk of heart attack and stroke in people with diabetes. "[The drugs] are always started at a low dose to prevent severe nausea while the body gets used to the medication, and the dose is increased slowly to either the max target dose or max dose the patient can tolerate (for obesity), or where we see good therapeutic effect (for diabetes)," she says.
"There are other similar medications for diabetes and tend to cause weight loss when treating diabetes, but these have not been approved for obesity and are not as frequently used off label," she notes.
The drugs may not be worthwhile for pharmacies to stock.
Why are some pharmacies choosing not to stock a diabetes drug that works so well for many people? "There are a couple of reasons pharmacies may not have medications like Ozempic and Wegovy," Hurley-Kim says. "Many independent pharmacies [not chains such as CVS or Walgreens, for example] in particular are paid less to dispense these drugs than they cost to purchase. Pharmacies are not allowed to refuse to dispense individual prescriptions based on negative reimbursement rates, but they can choose not to carry certain medications altogether. For an independent pharmacy, losing $50 on a single prescription is a big deal, especially if there are many patients using it and filling it each month," she explains.
"Because there is also an ongoing shortage, some pharmacies simply are not able to stock these drugs consistently," Hurley-Kim adds. "The pharmacies at the clinic where I practice have not been able to receive reliable supply of some strengths for months."
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If you can't find Ozempic, you have options.
What should patients in search of semaglutide, whether under the name Ozempic or Wegovy, do if they can't find a pharmacy to fill their prescription?
"This is a really difficult challenge," says Hurley-Kim. "I have patients who have had to call many different pharmacies in an attempt to find them; some have had to switch pharmacies several times depending where their medication is available when they need to fill it. We can sometimes switch to a similar drug if an equivalent dose is available. The worst-case scenario is a significant interruption in therapy (longer than about two weeks), because that often means we need to restart back at the smallest dose and increase over time, which can take months."
New York-based doctor Randa Jaafar, MD, CEO of FILD Studio, offers a suggestion in case your pharmacy says supply issues, not profit concerns, are preventing them from filling prescriptions. "When the pharmacies get a prescription for the drug, they need to reach out to the wholesaler and get the medication. Some pharmacies stock it, but in a compounded version (something they make in their pharmacy), therefore they don't have to reach out to a wholesaler," she tells Best Life. "Some pharmacies do not have compounding abilities, thus they get labeled as 'not stocking it.' The difference is compounding pharmacies can make it in house. Non-compounding pharmacies do not stock it, but they all have the ability to reach out to a wholesaler and order the medication," she says.
Best Life offers the most up-to-date information from top experts, new research, and health agencies, but our content is not meant to be a substitute for professional guidance. When it comes to the medication you're taking or any other health questions you have, always consult your healthcare provider directly.