An unexpected surge in people using type 2 diabetes medication for weight loss has caused a global shortage of the drug Ozempic.
Demand for the drug, that acts as an appetite suppressant for weight loss, has increased significantly after widespread promotion on social media, particularly on TikTok.
People with diabetes can inject Ozempic weekly to manage blood sugar levels. The only other approved drug in its class, Trulicity, is also in short supply.
Australian Centre for Accelerating Diabetes Innovations director Elif Ekinci said the shortage was causing stress for people living with diabetes as well as the clinicians treating them.
"Obesity is a major issue for people. But the stress is coming from people whose bodies really need this drug to control diabetes, and they can't access it suddenly. It's affecting them and their clinicians a lot," she said.
"If you just want to lose a couple of kilos, using a medication like that takes it away from someone who really needs it."
Drug manufacturer Novo Nordisk advised the TGA at the beginning of September that Ozempic wouldn't be available in Australia until early 2023.
The Therapeutic Goods Administration is urging health professionals to limit the prescribing and dispensing of ozempic for approved use only to people with type 2 diabetes.
According to Diabetes Australia, around 1.8 million Australians have diabetes, with 280 people in the country developing diabetes every day.
On TikTok, users have been documenting their weight loss using the hashtag #ozempicaustralia, which has garnered 16 million views.
Baker Institute's Professor Neale Cohen said social media can be a problem for medical care.
"We do worry about it, because some of it is absolutely inappropriate. No doubt, that has fueled interest in these medications," he said.
"In this particular instance, what they're promoting isn't a bad thing, except for the supply issues."
Ozempic has been clinically proven to safely cause weight loss in people with obesity.
Regional Australians with type 2 diabetes have been forced to seek alternative treatments, with the current wait time for Ozempic currently at least three months.
"Now we have to spend time talking to people on an individual basis and working out the best alternative therapy until such time as we can get hold of these important injectable agents," Professor Cohen said.
IN OTHER NEWS:
Australia relies on foreign production of a majority of essential drugs, importing 90 per cent of medicines according to research by the Institute for Integrated Economic Research.
This means Australia's medical supply chain is vulnerable to international shocks.
India and China manufacture between 60 per cent and 80 per cent of the world's active pharmaceutical ingredients, and are two of the countries most threatened by climate change, which is predicted to impact manufacturing through natural disasters and rising temperatures.
The Australian Medical Association support comprehensive strategies to create sovereign industrial capability to manufacture medications to ensure adequate medicine security in times of serious disruption to overseas supply chains.
"We need more transparency about production and how much is available, how much will be available," Ms Ekinci said.
"If we don't know, we're left in the lurch."
Ozempic is not the only essential drug in short supply in Australia. There are currently 321 medicine shortage alerts listed by the Therapeutic Drugs Administration, with 38 listed as critical.