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Osteoporosis medication prescribing in British Columbia and Ontario: impact of public drug coverage


Summary — The researchers compared the patterns of osteoporosis medication prescribing between two provinces in Canada with different public drug coverage policies. Oral bisphosphonates were the primary drugs used, yet access to the second-generation oral bisphosphonates (alendronate, risedronate) was limited in one region. Implications of differential access to oral bisphosphonates warrants further study.

Introduction — Approved therapies for treating osteoporosis in Canada include bisphosphonates, calcitonin, denosumab, raloxifene, and teriparatide. However, significant variation in access to these medications through public drug coverage exists across Canada. The researchers sought to compare patterns of osteoporosis medication prescribing between British Columbia (BC) and Ontario.

Methods — Using dispensing data from BC (PharmaNet) and Ontario (Ontario Drug Benefits), the researchers identified all new users of osteoporosis medications aged 66 or more years from 1995/1996 to 2008/2009. The researchers summarized the number of new users by fiscal year, sex, and index drug for each province. BC data were also stratified by whether drugs were dispensed within or outside public PharmaCare.

Results — The researchers identified 578,254 (n = 122,653 BC) eligible new users. Overall patterns were similar between provinces: (1) most patients received an oral bisphosphonate (93% in BC and 99% in Ontario); (2) etidronate prescribing declined after 2001/2002, reaching a low of 41% in BC and 10% in Ontario in 2008/2009; and (3) the proportion of males treated increased over time, from 7% in 1996/1997 to 25% in 2008/2009. However, the researchers note major differences within versus outside the BC PharmaCare system. In particular, <2% of drugs dispensed within PharmaCare compared to 79% of drugs dispensed outside PharmaCare were for a second-generation bisphosphonate (alendronate or risedronate).

Conclusions — Oral bisphosphonates are the primary drugs used to treat osteoporosis in Canada. Prescribing practices changed over time as newer medications came to market, yet access to second-generation bisphosphonates through BC PharmaCare was limited. Implications of differential access to oral bisphosphonates warrants further study.



Cadarette SM, Carney G, Baek D, Gunraj N, Paterson JM, Dormuth CR. Osteoporos Int. 2011; 23(4):1475-80. Epub 2011 Sep 8.

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Contributing ICES Scientists