National | Diabetes

Thousands could be affected by shortage of diabetes drug

Counties Manukau resident Graham King started taking dulaglutide this year. Photo / LDR / Stephen Forbes

Thousands of people with type 2 diabetes could be affected by a shortage of the drug dulaglutide.

Manufacturer Lilly has instructed New Zealand health care providers to consider not prescribing Trulicity (dulaglutide) to new patients due to a lack of supply.

Counties Manukau resident Graham King (Ngāti Tai) was diagnosed with diabetes in 1990 and started taking dulaglutide this year.

He said the medication had been life changing for him and he was concerned about any threat to the supply of the drug, which is prescribed to 14,000 Kiwis.

"My insulin intake has been halved and I've lost 15kg in eight months since I started taking it."

Diabetes Foundation Aotearoa chairman John Baker shared King's concerns.

"I think this could become quite a big issue if the delay is prolonged," he said.

The south Auckland-based specialist said he recommended the drug to dozens of GPs every week for their patients. The shortage had the potential to affect thousands of patients, he said.

Ministry of Health figures show in 2020 there were 277,803 people with diabetes in New Zealand, with 47,988 in Counties Manukau alone.

Diabetes NZ chief executive Heather Verry said she was planning to meet with Pharmac to discuss the supply of the drug and what alternative medications it would look at funding during the shortages, which were expected to last until next year.

She said she had heard anecdotal reports some doctors had taken patients off the drug due to concerns over its availability.

"People who are already on Trulicity will in fact continue to receive their prescriptions," Verry said.

"However, those that haven't received the drug yet may not get it until these supply issues are dealt with."

In a statement to healthcare providers, Lilly president (Australia, New Zealand and North Asia-Pacific) Benjamin Basil said the company was taking "a series of actions in many countries around the world, including New Zealand, to deal with these supply challenges".

"Healthcare professionals are asked to consider the impact of limited Trulicity product availability on patients when making treatment choices, particularly for new patient initiations."

Basil said he expected the "global supply pressures" to continue into early 2023 and the company was working closely with Pharmac to ensure minimal patient impact.

"Lilly is focused on maintaining supplies of Trulicity at levels that will support existing patients already on treatment in New Zealand."

Pharmac chief executive Sarah Fitt said the Crown entity was in talks with Lilly about the implications of the drug shortage.

She said there might be a risk to supply if the number of patients being prescribed the medication "continues to grow".

Fitt said Pharmac was reviewing potential alternative medicines.

Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

Local Democracy Reporting