It’s difficult to predict pharmacy industry trends. The industry lies at the intersection of healthcare and commerce, with one directly affecting the other.
Just like Texas weather, tomorrow’s forecast can be wildly different from what actually happens.
Such is the case with the current Ozempic shortage. Many independent pharmacies are currently experiencing shortages of the drug.
Why is this? The answer, oddly enough, lies at that very intersection.
Here’s what you need to know — and what you can do — about the ongoing Ozempic shortage and how you can better manage drug shortages in the future.
Ozempic is an injection that can help “improve blood sugar in adults with type 2 diabetes and [...] reduce the risk of major cardiovascular events such as stroke, heart attack, or death,” according to the medication's website.
Ozempic is one of the most widely-prescribed medications to help treat type 2 diabetes. But some patients noticed a convenient side effect from the injection: weight loss.
Though the Ozempic website says that a blend of exercise and healthy eating will contribute to weight loss (while taking Ozempic), it was never the medication’s main purpose.
Social media spotlighted the medication’s surprising side effects. As a result, demand for the injection skyrocketed — so much so that the FDA reported a continuous shortage of the injection.
The Ozempic shortage now leaves patients who depended on the medication to fear the unknown. Their health journeys are taking a potentially serious detour due to the shortage.
Speaking for People Magazine, actor Anthony Anderson explained what the shortage means for patients who actually need them.
“It’s creating a shortage for those of us who need the medicine that we need not for weight loss issues, but for our health,” Anderson says.
It also doesn’t help that doctors knowingly prescribe Ozempic to patients who don’t have diabetes.
An NBC News story confirms this, mentioning how Dr. Amanda Velazquez, who works at the Cedars-Sinai Center for Weight Management and Metabolic Health in Los Angeles, has “heard anecdotally that some doctors are prescribing patients who don’t [have diabetes], but can afford them without insurance.”
Not only is the Ozempic shortage impacting your patient’s health, but it can also put a dent in your independent pharmacy’s financials.
The Ozempic shortage impacts how independent pharmacies stock their shelves.
Speaking for an NBC News story, Nate Hux, owner of Pickerington Pharmacy in Ohio, stopped stocking Ozempic altogether simply because it was just too expensive.
He said a 30-day supply of the injection costs $900. He’d usually get reimbursed $860, resulting in a loss of profit. He decided to stop stocking Ozempic to keep his pharmacy afloat.
The costliness of Ozempic raises another familiar trend in the pharmacy industry: proper reimbursement. And you can’t discuss proper reimbursement without bringing up pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs).
Independent pharmacists nationwide are at constant odds with PBMs. They are primarily responsible for pharmacies receiving less compensation for prescription sales, which is already lower than their chain pharmacy counterparts.
This makes the Ozempic shortage not only a health crisis but a financial one. It also acts as a reminder of PBMs’ influential and stifling presence in the pharmacy industry.
Independent pharmacies are small businesses, and proper reimbursement is vital in keeping them afloat. PBMs have long been a deterrent to an independent pharmacy’s financial stability.
Even when the Ozempic shortage comes to an end, many independent pharmacists such as Nate Hux have already decided they will no longer carry the drug — purely for financial preservation.
Read our “The State of Pharmacy Benefit Managers [2022 Report]” blog to learn more about PBMs’ place in the pharmacy industry.
Drug shortages are never convenient. There’s never a good time to have a drug shortage. In some way, shape, or form, your independent pharmacy will suffer.
As we mentioned in our “Here Are the Biggest Pharmacy Problems (and How to Overcome Them)” blog, drug shortages are as common in pharmacy work as the common cold.
Ironically enough, 66% of drug shortages in 2021 involved injectable drugs, according to Statista.
There are several ways to handle drug shortages. You can order large amounts of highly-demanded medications, giving you a nice cushion in the event of a shortage.
But that also brings you back to proper reimbursement. Ordering ahead — and ordering large quantities — is a huge investment. It becomes a riskier investment for independent pharmacies due to PBMs.
If all else fails, call a neighboring independent pharmacy for a transfer. Though you might lose a customer (they might come back), at least your patient won’t have to go without their life-saving medications.
The current Ozempic shortage will hopefully come to an end soon. In the meantime, it is essential that you stay proactive. Drug shortages are never convenient, especially when they’re life-saving medications like Ozempic.
The current Ozempic shortage also paints a vivid picture of the pharmaceutical industry’s current state. Even if the medication were available, some independent pharmacists won’t stock the drug altogether for financial stability.
A single month’s supply cost is more than the reimbursement, mainly due to certain insurance programs and pharmacy benefit managers.
Though the road ahead is uncertain, it’s important to at least be informed. Now that you know the lay of the land, it’s time to come up with a plan of action.